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Unless you’re one of those people who finds themselves so overwhelmed every year with the Christmas spirit that it’s a tough choice what Christmas sweater to wear, the annual dirge of Christmas movie releases is enough to turn your stomach like a glass of expired eggnog. But there is one movie out this year that may be worth your time, if for no other reason than the cast is built around country music royalty. Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Harry Connick Jr, and Connie Britton from ABC’s TV drama Nashville make up the primary cast of When Angels Sing, based off a novel of the same name released in 1999 by Turk Pipkin.
The film stars Harry Connick, Jr. as a history professor who as a child loved Christmas, but after a tragic accident, grew to hate the holiday. As a grown up, he still can’t find the joy of Christmas, but as his son faces a tragedy, he rekindles his holiday spirit again. He gets a push in the right direction after the lease comes due on his current home and he meets a man named Nick (Willie Nelson) who sells him a house at half price, but only if he will keep up the traditions of the house and neighborhood, including maintaining the house as the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s Christmas celebration.
Kris Kristofferson plays Harry Connick Jr.’s father, Connie Britton plays Connick’s wife, and Lyle Lovett plays one of the neighbors. The film also includes cameos from female Texas country 4-piece The Trishas, Texas swing legend Ray Benson, Dale Watson, Sarah Hickman, Marcia Ball, Guy Forsyth, Joel Guzman, Kat Edmonson, Miss Lavelle , Eloise DeJoria, and others.
When Angels Sing, which is based in the Austin area, first debuted as part of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin on March 10th. “We already had a great start with Harry and Willie and Kris, so I told our casting director ‘let’s put everybody who’s a musician in the movie’,” director Tim McCanlies told Billboard.
Music wasn’t a part of the original script, but McCanlies saw a unique opportunity with so much music talent on the set to make it a seminal part of the movie. Some of the musical performances include Kris Kristofferson singing Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper,” and an original duet written by Willie and Harry Connick Jr. that plays over the ending credits. Each song in the movie was filmed with full performances, so a soundtrack for the movie is also a possibility.
Information on the distribution of When Angels Sing remains sketchy, but it received a very limited release to select theaters on Novemeber 1st, and is reportedly available on demand through Direc TV. Check back as more information on distribution becomes available.
You can watch more clips and behind-the-scenes interviews from the film on Fandango.
Yeah, I remember the first time I heard marijuana referenced in a song and thought it was cool. It was a song by the New Riders of the Purple Sage called “Henry” from their 1971 self-titled album. More of a smuggling song than a drug song, the story and the suspense of the song is what made it intriguing, with the marijuana more of just a backdrop. This inspired me to try and discover similar songs which led me to the Arlo Guthrie smuggler’s song “Coming Into Los Angeles.”
Gram Parsons somewhat challenged the stuffiness of the country establishment when he sported a Nudie suit with marijuana leaves embroidered on it in the late 60′s, but at the time he was considered more of a product of the rock world. And then of course there’s Kris Kristofferson’s iconic “Sunday Morning Coming Down” whose somewhat veiled reference to marijuana is given credit for stretching lyrical boundaries in country music on its way to being named Song of the Year by the CMA in 1970.
But 2013 very well may go down as the year when referencing marijuana and other drugs in your songs is no longer cool as much as it is conformist—a lyrical hook, a well-recognized buzz word made for marketing an artist or song just as much as anything else. When a former Disney star like Miley Cyrus is out there talking about “Dancing with ‘Molly’” and “Trying to get a line in the bathroom,” and the 80-year-old Willie Nelson is singing a duet with the 42-year-old Snoop Dogg called “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die,” there ceases to be either the generational gap, or the exclusivity of drug references in music to make them “cool.”
Where the current trend of mentioning cannabis in your country song seems to be cropping up is in the unlikely place of country music’s songwriting females. This dynamic and inspiring group of women who are regularly referenced as the last bastion of substance in country music’s mainstream seems to be the epicenter of country music’s marijuana bloom: Kacey Musgraves with the songs “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Blowin’ Smoke,” and “Follow Your Arrow.” Ashley Monroe with the song “Weed Instead of Roses.” Brandy Clark and the song “Get High.” And The Pistol Annies with songs like “Takin’ Pills” and “Hush Hush.”
The differences between these song’s marijuana and drug references and the trends on the male side of country music to reference pickups, tailgates, ice cold beer, and dirt roads, are very subtle. Sure, many of the pot references come within the context of a more in-depth story. But just like pickup truck references, they’re used to grab the attention of demographics and sell music to listeners.
Just look at the graphics below taken from Amazon’s MP3 popularity ratings. For a marijuana song like Ashley Monroe’s “Weed Instead of Roses,” it positively dominates the popularity contest compared to her other songs. Same goes with Kacey Musgraves’ three most popular songs (though in fairness, “Blowin’ Smoke doesn’t reference pot directly). One might argue though that these songs are more popular because they are also the artist’s radio singles. But this speaks even deeper to the current marijuana trend. If you want to be a mainstream female songwriter and have the A&R folks pay attention to your music, you may want to include a song with marijuana references.
Ashley Monroe’s Tracks from the album Like A Rose:
Kacey Musgraves Tracks from the album Same Trailer, Different Park:
Just like with the country rap trend or the pickup truck trend, when a lyrical theme works, it almost becomes a requirement for mainstream artists. And just like the male tailgate songs that sound so cliche to distinguishing music listeners, marijuana references appeal to bored suburban types who listen to country music as a form of escapism.
Back in the 90′s marijuana references and imagery became popularized by big music acts like Cypress Hill, Pantera, Snoop Dogg, and Green Day. But then the trend became sort of passé amongst bands on the fringes of the mainstream when marijuana references began to work themselves into the content of Top 40 pop songs. It was no longer cool.
Country music was a late bloomer to the marijuana marketing trend because it’s traditionally conservative-leaning audience. Artists like Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels referenced pot in the 70′s and 80′s, but this was far from the mainstream. Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,” Hank Jr’s, “O.D’d in Denver,” take it a step further into the cocaine realm. But as modern mainstream country artists step into the marijuana and drug realm, independent and cutting-edge artists seem to step away. For example Hank Williams III started his career in country music with heavy marijuana imagery and references, but has veered away from it in recent years.
Women are not the only ones referencing marijuana in the current mainstream country market. Eric Church sells T-shirts with pot leaves on them and had a hit song in “Smoke A Little Smoke.” Luke Bryan’s mega-hit “That’s My Kind Of Night” says “I got that real good feel good stuff up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck.”
The political environment surrounding marijuana also plays into the pot music debate. The stigma around the drug has been significantly diluted by the passing of laws decriminalizing the plant, making it legal for medicinal purposes, or legalizing it in full which has happened in some states. Marijuana is a very commonly-used substance throughout American society, and as the stigma around the plant subsides, so does the potency of the references to it in popular culture.
There’s nothing naughty or cutting edge about a pot reference in a song anymore. It’s conformist. It’s marketing. It’s mainstream. Not all the time of course; sometimes it comes up naturally in the context of a song. But just like many so many other musical elements, marijuana and drug references have been co-oped by the mainstream, spoiled, and exploited.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open in the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an event carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announced in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’s hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter Family
- Bobby Bare
- Chris Gantry
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi Smith
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey Morgan
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970′s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genre—such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter—recognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
For years the top tier of country music coverage was simply a cloistered and closed-minded exercise in recycling the same already-established names in puff pieces proselytizing the virtues of pop country and very little else. As independent music as a whole continues to gain market share from the mainstream, it’s becoming more and more pertinent for big news outlets to pay attention to the rising tide of independent music, and the renewed interest in legends of the genre. CMT created CMT Edge to cover Americana, bluegrass, legacy artists and other independent acts, and other outlets have stepped up their independent coverage in one capacity or another. But that one mainstream outlet that really gives equal footing to artists regardless if they have the big money of a major label behind them has remained elusive…at least in country music’s traditional stomping ground of the United States.
Once again the Europeans out class their cross Atlantic counterparts with the newly-launched Country Music Magazine from Team Rock—the same people who’ve brought the UK the long-running and widely-distributed Classic Rock Magazine. Despite the generic name, this magazine is anything but, with 132 extra wide (8 ½” x 12″) glossy full-color photo-showcasing pages, accompanied by a free, 15-track CD with music from the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Guy Clark.
Amongst its content is a full 60 pages of in-depth features on folks like Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, steel guitar player Buddy Emmons, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, LeAnn Rimes, Steve Martin, Wanda Jackson, and many more. There’s also a rundown of “69 Must-Have Classics of Modern Country” and smaller features on Fifth on the Floor, Austin Lucas, Jack Clement, and others. The last 30 pages of the mag are dedicated to dozens of album reviews and a buyers guide of releases and re-issues complete with ratings from a wide swath of the country music world. Even the few, unobtrusive ads in the mag are for cool country folks like Daniel Romano and Laura Cantrell. Both the current and archival photos for the respective artists are astounding in their full page context.
When I first heard about this magazine and saw the lineup of who they were planning to feature, I was interested to see how it would all play out once it went to print. It sounded almost too good to be true, but Country Music Magazine seems to be determined to do right by the country music name.
And to be fair, the mag doesn’t ignore bigger, mainstream artists. There’s album reviews for Florida-Georgia Line, Blake Shelton, and Brad Paisley because they’re part of the country music community too. But the reviews for these big names are right beside reviews for people like Bill Kirchen and Patty Griffin. And it can’t be stressed enough how much content is here. It’s a magazine you can’t put down, but seems to take forever to get through because past every page turn is something you want to read, and read again.
About the only base that maybe wasn’t thoroughly touched was the Texas/Red Dirt side of country, but from mainstream to Americana and independent country, they have it all covered. Another concern would be that they set the bar so high with this inaugural issue, it will be interesting to see if they can match it at quarterly intervals. Nonetheless, this is the country music magazine we’ve all be waiting for.
Two guns up!
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Country Music Magazine is edited by Ed Mitchell, with contributions by Grant Moon, Emma Wicks, and Max Bell. Comes shipped in an outer protective cover that includes the magazine and free CD. The magazine costs £7.99 in the UK, £9.99, which is roughly $15.00 US to have it shipped to the States.
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, I’ll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. We’ll see where the fuck you’re at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, “fuck you if you’re gonna rip us off like that on your first release.”
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and I’m like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: No, he’s not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture—and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, ““None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, ““They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’” (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” “‘Dierks’ has officially ripped off my song ‘In A Razor Town.’” Isbell fired off. “Dierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called ‘Home.’” Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
Of all the people you could have picked to become an outspoken dissenter to the direction of country music, Rodney Crowell would have been pretty far down the list. Not that he doesn’t have the skins on the wall to say such things and have them carry weight, or that he doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to his own approach to music. Rodney is in the direct lineage of legacy-caliber songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and came up playing in Emmylou Harris’s “Hot Band.” He and Emmylou recently released a duet’s album together, but he always seemed to be more of a reserved soul when it came to such things as saying country music is headed in the wrong direction.
Well he’s not being very reserved at the moment, taking his second opportunity in the last month to decry the direction of country in a recent interview:
I watch these young country artists come in and burst onto the scene, and I always have to remind myself that these artists didn’t experience Hank Williams Sr. or Big Joe Turner or Kris Kristofferson, who was able to bring the bedroom and sensual poetry into country music. These artists came from a different set of archetypal images. If I took the old school curmudgeon approach, I would say these guys are really missing the boat.
A couple of weeks ago, Crowell made similar disparaging remarks about the direction of country, carefully worded, coy, and cunning in the way the words cut right to the heart of the problem, saying in part:
Ever since country music entered the back door of main stream commerciality—most noticeably in the early sixties—the debate over who possesses the more noble heart, the purists or the popular entertainers has never stopped. (Remember the credibility scare of the late 80′s.) Generally speaking, the purists make the more timeless music.
Pop culture is a disposable culture, therefore it stands to reason that those who want the big bucks and the power are inclined to produce slick and disposable music. I don’t see anything wrong with artists getting rich by pigging out at the trough of poor taste.
Rodney Crowell may be no Dale Watson when it comes to the temper he brings to his country music dissent, but the more voices speaking out and reaching different audiences, the better. By saying many of today’s pop country artists are “missing the boat,” Crowell is showing the leadership country music needs to help right the ship.
You’ve all heard about the “Million Dollar Quartet”—the recording session at Memphis’s legendary Sun Studios on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cash’s home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world. The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place.
The Who and Why
Johnny Cash was in the midst of recording his famous The Johnny Cash Show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and Bob Dylan was in the studio in Nashville recording his landmark country album Nashville Skyline (that Johnny Cash appears on). Bob was staying at Johnny’s Hendersonville house at the time. Meanwhile Joni Mitchell was in town recording an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show (she appears on the 1st & 6th episodes of the 1st season in 1969) and was currently dating Graham Nash who tagged along for the adventure. Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein were in the habit of showing up anywhere where their songs might be heard by big name performers, and together they all formed one star studded songwriting circle.
Johnny Cash was the glue of the whole thing, bridging the differences between the dispirit music realms the 6 participants came from with The Johnny Cash Show being the catalyst. Performers on the show regulary stayed at Johnny’s Hendersonville home. “Music is for everybody,” Johnny Cash explained when telling the story of the legendary night to David Letterman in 1985. “And although I’m known as a country artist, [The Johnny Cash Show] was a network show, and I wanted to see some people on it that I knew the people wanted to see.”
“That night in my house [was] the first time these songs were heard…” Johnny Cash went on. “Joni Mitchell sang ‘Both Sides Now,’ Graham Nash sang ‘Marrakesh Express,’ Shel Silverstein sang ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ Bob Dylan sang ‘Lay Lady Lay,’ and Kristofferson sang ‘Me & Bobby McGee.’ That was the first time any of those songs were heard.”
David Letterman’s poignant reaction to Cash’s run down of talent and songs was, “Did you have snacks?”
All five songs became very successful charting singles. “Me & Bobby McGee” went on to become a #1 hit for Janis Joplin (awarded posthumously), and “A Boy Named Sue” a #1 hit for Johnny Cash. “Both Sides, Now” has now been recorded by over 70 artists, including Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby, and Jimmie Rodgers. Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” is considered a country standard, and has been recorded by artists as varied as The Byrds, to Duran Duran, to Ministry.
There is one minor correction to Johnny Cash’s recollection. Even though Joni Mitchell most likely sang “Both Sides, Now” that night, the song was first recorded by Judy Collins in 1967, meaning the first time it was heard would not be that night at Johnny’s house in Hendersonville. And though “Marrakesh Express” wasn’t released until May of 1969, some reports have the song being recorded in 1968 for Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s self-titled album.
Nonetheless, the music showcased that night all in one place by the original songwriters is something to behold, and certainly was one of the most diverse, most star-packed, and most hit-packed songwriter circles in the history of popular music.
It was later memorialized by The Highwaymen in “Songs That Make A Difference” from their 1990 album Highwaymen II.
Shel Silverstein – “A Boy Named Sue”
Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides, Now”
Kris Kristofferson – “Me & Bobby McGee”
Bob Dylan – “Lay Lady Lay”
Graham Nash – “Marrakesh Express”
It seems like once or twice a year we get word of one of these country-relevant movies coming down the pike, but then we have to wait with bated breath for what seems like forever for the actual release because the movie makers must muck through the process of finding the right distribution channels. When the flicks are finally released, we tend to find out why such unfortunate delays belabored the release process, because despite strong casts and the best intentions, the small budget reveals itself in a less than appealing final product. Such seemed to be the case for the Ray Wylie Hubbard-written Last Rites of Ransom Pride movie starring Dwight Yoakam and Kris Krisstofferson, who also appeared in Bloodworth; another film beleaguered with distribution issues and bad reviews.
What neither of those movies had was the strength of a true to life story like The Last Ride. Based loosely around the last 48 hours of the life of Hank Williams, The Last Ride takes you on the ill-fated road trip beginning in Alabama, and ending in West Virginia where Hank Williams passed away on New Years Day, 1953. Though Hank’s name is never spoken in the movie, it’s taken as a given that you know who he is, and what fate awaits him. Hank is played by Henry Thomas (the kid from ET), who has the nearly-impossible task of portraying a man who lives larger than life in the mythos of American music. Though Henry’s visage and tones never quite meet your imagination of a living and breathing Hank Williams, by the end of the film you begin to connect with the emotions that the film portrays, and the emotions Hank must have felt on that fateful trip whether you believe Henry Thomas to be an accurate portrayal of Hank Williams or not.
Those looking for a period piece where every detail of Hank’s final days on earth is laid out with impenetrable accuracy will miss the point of this movie. In many respects Hank Williams is not the main character, it is Silas Combs (Jesse James), Hank’s 19-year-old driver and travel companion. But there are little nuggets of interesting Hank Williams history embedded throughout the movie that the learned Hank Williams fan will pick up on and enjoy. And despite a small budget, director Harry Thomason did a heck of a job scrubbing out any and all anachronisms in the movie, leaving the viewer smack dab in 1952 right before New Years.
The relationship between these two lost souls—the superstar on death’s door and the confused young man—is the centerpiece of The Last Ride. But moderate writing that generally lacked any true, gut-punching lines, and a few low budget distractions like the projected back window of a car ride instead of actual footage from a moving car somewhat saddle this movie from reaching the full potential of portraying the moments with the true weight of the actual events. Hank and driver Silas Combs are thrust into numerous scenes along the way meant to expose internal dialogues about the characters, but aside from a few special moments, they tend to be too short and feel too contrived to render any serious aid to your ability to suspend disbelief.
But as the movie progresses and Hank’s health deteriorates, The Last Ride delivers some truly poignant moments that evoke the heaviness of the situation evolving in the characters. Silas Combs shares a brief, but intimate moment with Kaley Cuoco (Big Bang Theory) on New Year’s Eve. At one point Hank looks out from the back of his powder blue Cadillac and sees a group of very young boys passing a liquor bottle and smoking a cigarette, and seems to identify with the tragic narrative that he’s slowly becoming the final outcome of. Though these moments may take a little too long to develop in the movie, they make The Last Ride at least worth the 100-minute investment for people whose personal histories hold the name “Hank Williams” in high regard.
The soundtrack is handled mostly by other artists covering Hank Williams songs, with some contributions of other non-Hank artists here and there. Though this may irk some Hank fans, they should understand that with small budgets and the prohibitive costs of the licensing of original music, using actual Hank songs may have been financially impossible. Aside from the central story surrounding Hank Williams, this doesn’t really feel like a musical movie as much as an exploration into the human condition told through a historical interpretation.
Though the Hank Williams story is one of the most intriguing American tragedies in history, it remains woefully untapped by Hollywood and the rest of the movie industry in an era that seems to be anemic in engaging narratives. Though The Last Ride makes some headway in helping to cover the Hank Williams storyline, and specifically his final days, it leaves the viewer a little wanting, while that one definitive film that rises to the mystique of Hank Williams himself remains elusive.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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Country music loves to pride itself in supporting the troops and the cause of the military more than any other genre. Though some of it may be bravado meant more for marketing, there are many legends in the country music ranks that served their country as young men. Here’s a list of country heroes who served the county.
Possibly country music’s most well-known veteran, Kris Kristofferson came from a family that pushed him to enlist after attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and graduating with a degree in literature. Yes, Kristofferson was a smart one to say the least, and achieved the rank of Captain in the US Army as a helicopter pilot and Ranger. He received his training at Fort Rucker, Alabama before being deployed to West Germany as part of the 8th Infantry Division. After serving out his tour of duty, Kristofferson was scheduled to become an English Literature professor at West Point, but decided to pursue a career in songwriting instead. The decision meant he was disowned by his family, but that didn’t stop the American Veterans Awards from naming Kris “Veteran of the Year” in 2003. Kristofferson’s first job in music was sweeping floors at Columbia Studios. His first successful songwriting hit was “Vietnam Blues” recorded by Dave Dudley.
Willie Nelson may be known as one of the world’s greatest pacifists, but he grew up in an era when military service was expected of young men, and the draft was in full force. So he voluntarily joined the Air Force in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, wanting to be a jet pilot. He received his first basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, but it was concluded Willie was too “absentminded” (as Willie puts it) to be in the cockpit of a jet. So the Air Force shipped him to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, and eventually to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for more basic training. Eventually they made him a medic, but years of bailing hay in Willie’s hometown of Abbott, TX had given him a bad back condition and he was discharged after 9 months of service.
In 1950, a year before Willie Nelson made his way to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to enlist in the Air Force, future fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash did the same. Cash spent 4 years in the service, rising to Staff Sargent, and becoming a Morse Code intercept operator working in Landsberg, West Germany. Johnny is given credit for intercepting the first radio transmission announcing the news of the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The name of Cash’s first band was “The Landsberg Barbarians,” an homage to the German town he called home. When Cash was honorably discharged in July of 1954, he returned to Texas to marry his first wife Vivian Liberto who he’d met at a roller rink when in basic training.
Before Shel Silverstein penned “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “Put Another Log on the Fire” for Tompall Glaser, and many other country hits, and before he’d go on to sell over 20 million children’s books, he was an illustrator for the Pacific Stars & Stripes military publication. Silverstein was drafted into the Army in 1953 and served in both Korea and Japan. When it was clear Silverstein was not fit for combat, he began illustrating an article series called Take Ten, amusing service members with his drawings and anecdotes about military life. Later his cartoons would be featured in two books: Take Ten and Grab Your Socks!, becoming big sellers for Ballintine Books, and introducing the world to Shel’s illustrative and comedic genius.
There’s many “new Outlaws” in mainstream country music right now walking around with dogs tags, but Jamey Johnson is the only one with actual military cred to back the fashion accessory up. After dropping out of Jacksonville State University, Johnson enlisted in the Marine Corps where he served for 8 solid years, rising to the rank of corporal as a mortarman in the 23rd Marines, 3rd Batallion. During his Marine Corps stint, he was known for playing his original songs for bunk mates, and two of the songs on Jamey’s first self-released album mention the Marines. By coincidence, Johnson was discharged from the military 1 week before his unit deployed to Iraq, but he’s been to both Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times since, making regular appearances on USO tours.
George Jones was enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 1950′s during The Korean War, stationed in San Jose, California until he was discharged in 1953.
Roger Miller enlisted in the Army and served in the Korean War to avoid being arrested for stealing a guitar when he was 17.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock was in the Marines, and gives credit to his time in Okinawa for endowing him with his love for the steel guitar sound.
George Strait was enlisted in the Army from 1971 to 1975, stationed in Hawaii for the later half of his career as part of the 25th Infantry Division. He performed in an army-sanctioned country band called “Rambling Country.”
Songwriter Billy Don Burns was a paratrooper from 1968-1970.
Charlie Louvin of The Louvin Brothers served in both World War II and The Korean War.
Hank Thompson served in the Navy in Word War II.
Texas country traditionalist Jason Eady served in The Air Force for six years as a translator.
It’s time to ratchet up the rhetoric on this Kacey Musgraves girl. Yet again.
Earlier this week she caused quite a buzz (no pun intended) when she played a song called “Follow Your Arrow” at the Ryman Auditorium as part of the week-long Country Radio Seminar in Nashville. The song builds from the subversive, somewhat racy talk (at least for mainstream country) of Kacey’s big hit “Merry Go ‘Round.” The subject matter of “Follow Your Arrow” touches on smoking joints and girls kissing girls, and stimulated a discussion about what would happen if it was released to country radio.
That discussion seems a little presumptive since “Follow Your Arrow” has not been offered as a new single from her upcoming album yet, nor has it been rumored to be. Instead the song has been released for pre-sale ahead of her March 19th album release, meaning her label may be hoping it takes on its own life. But one of the reasons “Follow Your Arrow” is so intriguing to people beyond the song’s content is because it’s just so good.
My main issue is with the song is not the content. It’s that in many ways it’s a very close cousin to “Merry Go ‘Round.” It works very similar. It relies somewhat on the same shock value, and it has some of the same elements of judgmentalism and immaturity. But overall, “Follow Your Arrow” might even be better than “Merry Go ‘Round”–better written, and even more sonically appealing. My second issue would be if it is appropriate for country radio. I’m no prude, I regularly push music with adult content, but not necessarily for the public airwaves. For all of country radio’s awful trappings, at least it offers an alternative to the filth that predominates Top 40 and hip-hop stations, specifically the use of sexually-charged language and pot references as nearly a requirement for airplay on those formats.
One side note about “Follow Your Arrow” is that if Kacey Musgraves gets known as a pot smoking artist, her commercial value could skyrocket. Nothing is better for marketing music than marijuana. Bored, pot smoking suburban boys (the old PS2 pot head demographic) are definitely one of the reasons behind the big commercial success of Eric Church, bolstered by his pot hit “Smoke A Little Smoke.” Pot is also a big player behind the continued cultural relevance of Willie Nelson. If Kacey Musgraves finds herself in this same niche, she could inflict serious commercial damage on American consumers.
But aside from if “Follow Your Arrow” should become a radio single or if we’ll see Kacey Musgraves pot merch at her upcoming concerts, the impact a springboarding of Kacey’s career could have in regards to the opening up of new content, themes, styles, and influences in mainstream country could be down right revolutionary. We tend to want to draw comparisons to country music’s past in moments like this and maybe that’s a little too romantic of a notion, but you can’t help but to build comparisons to Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and Bobby Bare/Tompall Glaser’s “Streets of Baltimore” and how they opened up a completely new direction for country and helped usher in country’s Outlaw era.
Yes, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And to tell you the truth, I’m just as intrigued by many of the more subtle singer/songwriter offerings from Kacey’s upcoming album as I am “Follow Your Arrow.” But I’d be lying if I said I’m not becoming very engrossed in the idea of Kacey Musgraves getting big, and very big, and doing it with fresh, new, exciting, substantive material that could shake up the current stagnant climate of country radio and the mainstream in general.
All the dominoes seem to be aligned for Kacey: an already-proven hit single, an upcoming album with lots of buzz, a big tour on the way with Kenny Chesney. And what’s even more interesting is that Kacey is doing all of this while circumventing the rookie league of the independent country world, or the minor leagues of Americana, with content that’s really traditionally suited better for those avenues. She has an ACM nomination for Female Vocalist of the Year, and she’s on the fast track to becoming a big country music franchise.
Kacey Musgraves could very well revolutionize country music.
On February 4th, Outlaw Magazine published an interview with Dale Watson where the Texas-based honky-tonk singer submitted his plan for how to deal with the problem of what to call “country music” since, according to Dale, that term has been co-opted and irreversibly corrupted by Music Row in Nashville. Dale’s been throwing around his “Ameripolitan” term for years, but as Outlaw Magazine finds out, Dale is now working to organize behind the name.
“I’ve felt for a long time that the nomenclature, not just the name but the entire genre was successfully changed right under our noses and we couldn’t stop it,” Dale tells Outlaw Magazine’s Brandy Lee Dixon. “There is absolutely no way to get Nashville to stop calling their music country. They believe that it is a natural progression of country music and it’s theirs. I thought if our music is going to be allowed to grow it needs a new genre. Americana is original music with prominent rock influence, Ameripolitan is original music with prominent ROOTS influence.”
When asked why we should abandon the “country” term and not fight for it, Dale responded…
“Nashville has that term and it has been forever tainted. The reason I insisted that the new name NOT have the word country in it, is because it would always be thought of as a step child to Nashville Country.We need to start fresh. Also it’s not just about traditional country music either. Ameripolitan embraces Rockabilly, Western Swing, Hillbilly, Honky Tonk, Soloist, Duos and Instrumentalist. I think they all relate to each other and share the same roots whereas New Country has it’s roots planted in mid air and came from someones wallet.”
The main idea behind Dale’s Ameripolitan at the moment is the formation of an Ameripolitan awards show that would transpire in February 2014 in Austin, TX. The awards would be voted on by three divisions: 1) Fans. 2) Industry. 3) 100 Ameripolitan “captains.” More specific rules and a website are currently in development.
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Saving Country Music’s thoughts on Ameripolitan.
To begin by playing a little devil’s advocate, Ameripolitan could be a slightly confusing term. “politan” as a suffix means “city,” and “city” is the antonym of “country.” The suffix “politain” has also been used before in country in the term “countrypolitan.”
Countrypolitan was an offshoot of The Nashville Sound created in the 1960′s that featured heavy, polished production with strings and choruses. Countrypolitan was producer Billy Sherrill’s version of The Nashville Sound that competed directly with Outlaw country, similarly to how The Nashville Sound competed with The Bakersfield Sound.
The term “Ameripolitan” may lead some to think that the roots of Ameripolitan music are in country’s countrypolitan past. Countrypolitan showcased artists like Charlie Rich and Charley Pride, as opposed to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson that rebelled against the polished countrypolitan sound.
At the same time, one lesson we’ve learned over the years of trying to find a new name for true country music is that no term is going to be perfect. You just have to find one that fits, and go with it. Americana continues to fight to define itself (or to defy definition), yet it has seen tremendous growth over the last few years and has built remarkable consensus and infrastructure despite the ambiguity. A term Saving Country music once can up with, “Anti-Country” had its baggage too. In the end, to hold back the idea of unifying the music under a common term until a perfect term can be agreed upon is probably not smart, because that perfect term may not exist.
Shooter Jennings’ now defunct “XXX,” though not in the same sonic vein as “Ameripolitan” sonically, was a logistical mess and caused fracturing and chaos in the country music underground it was meant to unite. After its initial formation over two years ago, Shooter’s givememyxxx.com website was only updated twice in a 1 1/2 year period, and now the site is completely offline, neglected like the lark many charged Shooter would treat XXX as when it was initially proposed. The idea created more drama and infighting than consensus, and never even came close to forming the nationwide “XXX” radio format that was at the heart of the idea.
The other issue is the idea of relinquishing the term “country” to Music Row. I would be lying if I said this is something that I am comfortable with. At the same time I can’t see why Ameripolitan can’t move forward while the battle rages on for the heart of country music in a different theater. The fight for country music has always been one to transpire on multiple fronts, and Ameripolitan might create the infrastructure and strength in numbers true country needs to finally create a counter-balance or a legitimate alternative to Music Row.
A lot is still to be determined, but Dale Watson’s leadership has created an opportunity. By giving Ameripolitan a 1 year lead time to form a system gives Ameripolitan the benefit of a broad, unrushed perspective. By setting simple guidelines to make sure Ameripolitan’s formation has constructive input from fans, the industry, and a select group of people who will keep a watchful eye on the purity and direction of the term gives it strength and a pathway to consensus building.
Ameripolitain will not be perfect, but nothing is except the airbrushed faces and Auto-tuned voices of Music Row, and who wants to hear or see that? We should all move forward with an air of pragmatism and an understanding that discussion and constructive criticism is necessary to creating a healthy environment, but I don’t see any reason not to give Ameripolitan a chance to develop.
“Damn it, the fight isn’t in Austin and it isn’t in Los Angeles. It’s right here in Nashville, right here two blocks from Music Row, and if we win–and if our winning is ever going to amount to anything in the long run–we’ve got to beat them on their own turf.” –Tompall Glaser
Tompall Glaser in the studio control room at Hillbilly Central
The year was 1974, and a two-story stucco office building / studio located two blocks from Nashville’s infamous Music Row at 916 19th Avenue South got christened “Hillbilly Central” by a New York-based music writer. Hillbilly Central was the brain child of Tompall Glaser, a member of the Glaser Brothers, who took the money they earned from some success in the country music business to build their own studio. With the shutters on the windows always closed, and a cast of motley characters entering and emerging at all times day or night, Hillbilly Central became this mythical place in Nashville where the country music revolution happened.
Tompall with Captain Midnight, Hillbilly Central’s “spiritual advisor.”
“I want to walk down the street someday and see young people coming here, writing good songs, proud to be here again. See, when I first came here, a lot of people were proud to be here. It was a good feeling. It gave you pride. You didn’t give a shit whether the rest of the world liked you or not. And we were the underdogs and the niggers of the music business. Our music was the least respected of the music business, but we had our pride among ourselves. The public can sense–and individual can sense–when something is real and when it isn’t. The people know.” –Tompall Glaser
The Front of Hillbilly Central – Circa late 70′s
Hillbilly Central was a studio where the clocks and budgets didn’t matter. Fostering the creative process is what mattered. The first floor was offices / apartments where ideas came to life. The 2nd floor was the studio, state-of-the-art in its time. This was the mecca where Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Buffet, Kinky Friedman, John Hartford, Shel Silverstein, Mickey Newbury, and many others can to lay down some of their most memorable tracks. Hillbilly Central secretary Hazel Smith is the one that coined the term “Outlaws.”
Hazel Smith & Captain Midnight at Hillbilly Central
“That building was a fortress. It was a place where they could go and hide. It was home to them, and there were no Picassos on the wall. I remember someone once suggested that there was a black cloud over that building, but I never did really feel that. I felt like it was a building that housed a lot of love for a lot of people. Both Waylon and Tompall felt that, somehow or other, the world was against them, you know.” –Hazel Smith
Waylon Jennings & Tompall Glaser at Hillbilly Central
Before renegade studios like Tompall’s Hillbilly Central and “Cowboy” Jack Clement’s JMI Recording, the vast majority of Nashville’s records were cut in a few select studios, RCA’s Studio “B” in particular with Chet Atkins usually ruling the roost. Country artists weren’t allowed to record with their own bands. Only studio musicians who could be counted on to be efficient enough to keep costs in line. Many artists couldn’t even pick the songs they were going in to record.
Inside the Hillbilly Central Studio
“When we started, people thought we were going to destroy Nashville. Who wants to destroy Nashville? It’s a long way from my mind. But if a guy can’t offer up a good, decent alternative, he should shut the fuck up. But if he’s got a good, decent alternative, all he’s got to do is keep doing it, and pretty soon the whole fucking industry will be doing it, because there are too few people in this town that know what the fuck to do. Because they don’t love it; they’re doing it for the fucking salary.” –Tompall Glaser
Nashville was outright afraid of Tompall Glaser and Hillbilly Central. The polished and purified “Nashville Sound” is what ruled Music Row at the time: a system built on fitting into tight budgets and taking no risks. “Hillbillies” and their steel guitars and fiddles were what Music Row was running from. But the music wasn’t the only threat. Tompall Glaser was a shrewd businessman too, and that is what made him so frightening to Music Row.
Tompall and the Outlaw spirit of Hillbilly Central is what led to the album Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum, million-selling album in country music history.
Eventually Tompall’s passion became too much. Tompall and Waylon Jennings had a falling out, and the most important renegade studio in the history of country music eventually closed. Today 916 19th Avenue South is the home of Compass Records.
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All pictures and quotes originally appeared in the excellent, out-of-print book Outlaws: Revolution in Country Music by Michael Bane, copyright 1978. All pictures taken by Leonard Kamsler.
This article was inspired by the unfortunate truth that except for a miniature 175 x 150 picture, no images of Hillbilly Central could be found anywhere on the internet.
The fight for the purity of country music is almost as old as the genre itself. The conflict between pop and traditionalism, and the fight for creative control for artists runs like a thread throughout country music’s history, defining it as much as the twang of a Telecaster, or the moan of a steel guitar. Here are some of the most iconic images of country music revolution, and the stories behind them.
Fanning The Flames
Charlie Rich was tapped to present the trophy for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1975. Knowing what name the little envelope contained (and not being too happy about it), Rich pulled out his bic and lit it on fire, announcing the winner as “My friend, Mr. John Denver.” Denver wasn’t in attendance and accepted via satellite, unaware of the pyrotechnics. Rich, who’d won 5 CMA Awards in the past, was never invited back to the CMA’s, and was never nominated again.
Flipping The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot by photographer Jim Marshall at California’s San Quentin prison during a concert in 1970. The pose was the response to Jim’s request: “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” Where it became an iconic image of American culture was years later, when Johnny Cash was making his American Recordings records with Rick Rubin. Cash’s album Unchained had won the Grammy for “Best Country Album”, but was being virtually ignored by country radio. So Rick Rubin ran an ad with the obscene image, along with the caption, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to thank the country music establishment and country radio for your support.” (read full story)
On March 17th, 18th, and 19th of 1972, The Dripping Springs reunion, aka the “Country Music Woodstock” went down just outside of Austin, TX. It was a commercial flop, but a fundamentally-important event nonetheless because it established Austin, TX as a serious alternative to the restrictive environment of Nashville, with Willie Nelson leading the charge. Similar to the underground/independent movements in country music today, The Dripping Springs Reunion paid respects to the older legends like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller who all attended and performed, while establishing in earnest the Outlaw movement with native Texans Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson at the helm.
Tompall Glaser saved his pennies from his days in The Glaser Brothers and bought himself a renegade studio / clubhouse that would later be known as Hillbilly Central. Located on 19th Ave. right off of Music Row, it broke the monopoly RCA, Chet Atkins, and Studio “B” had on country music at the time. It allowed artists like Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver to record their music the way they wanted and use their own bands as opposed to Nashville’s unionized studio musicians. In the words of Outlaw writer Michael Bane, it was “the home of all those records Nashville really didn’t want to make,” including such iconic albums as Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes and John Hartford’s Aereo Plain.
Though the Grand Ole Opry continues to use the likeness of Hank Williams prominently, he was never reinstated as a member after being dismissed in 1952. The understanding was that Hank would sober up and make a triumphant return to the Opry that he so loved, but he died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29 and never got the opportunity. Hank’s grandson Hank Williams III started a movement called “Reinstate Hank” that now boasts over 54,000 signatures on its online petition. (photo courtesy of minnemynx)
Wanting to take creative control of his music and to be released from the budgetary restraints of the studio, Hank Williams III did the unprecedented for an artist signed to a major country music record label under the CMA umbrella. He took a a Korg D-1600–a consumer-grade piece of recording gear–and cut his record Straight to Hell in the house of his bass player, Joe Buck. It was the underground mentality brought to the mainstream, with the result being Hank3′s magnum opus.
(from left to right: Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III, Joe Buck)
How important was Hank Cochran as a songwriter? I’ll let Willie Nelson tell you.
Well, really, when you start talking about songwriters, you’ve got to say his name first. Then you start talking about everyone else.
Jamey Johnson’s Living For a Song is a tribute to his musical hero; a man he met in 2008 when Cochran was already suffering from pancreatic cancer. Johnson would visit Cochran regularly in the hospital, and according to Hank’s widow Suzy, “Jamey was there when a lot of people weren’t coming around.” Hank Cochran died on July 15th, 2010. Cochran’s death is said to inspire this project.
I’ve always had great respect for Jamey Johnson the man, and his dedication and desire to see this project through elevates him yet another notch. It’s hard not to regard him as one of the most sincere and authentic men in country music today, and the hope is that this project will elevate the name recognition of one of country’s greatest songwriters.
And you will find no more critically-acclaimed performer in country music at the moment, or in the last half-decade than Jamey Johnson. And though I appreciate Jamey the person and his honest, traditional approach to the music, in both the recorded and live context, I’ve found his music to be fundamentally lacking energy, enthusiasm, or the ability to engage the ear in virtually any manner. And unfortunately, Living for a Song falls into that same category.
This is what I don’t get about this album: We are sold this idea that Jamey Johnson is the best songwriter of our generation. But here it is over two years after his last album release, and this superlative, prolific songwriter is putting out an album of someone elses songs. Granted, his last album The Guitar Song was a double album, but like I pointed out when the The Guitar Song was released, there was a curious amount of covers and co-writes there as well.
I understand this is a tribute album, but most tribute albums are side projects; something you do outside of your normal album cycle as an artist. Living for a Song however is Jamey Johnson’s newest major release in his country music career. Can anybody tell me what other hits or critically-acclaimed songs Jamey Johnson has written for other artists since The Guitar Song’s release? What I’m getting at here is I think our generation’s best and most-prolific songwriter is in the midst of a multi-year writers block. That’s the only explanation I can come up for releasing this album as his sole recorded contribution to music in the last two years, aside from some guest spots.
What is Jamey Johnson known as? As a performer? As a singer? No. He might be capable at these two tasks, but he’s known primarily as a songwriter. So how am I supposed to get excited about him singing songs written and popularized by someone else? Do we really think he can sing “I Fall To Pieces” better than Patsy Cline? Is what we really need in a demonstratively-glutted music world milder versions of songs we’ve already heard?
And for all the Jamey Johnson fans who sell him as the solution to how to get folks re-engaged with traditional country, how does this album do the trick? Are any of these songs radio singles that can compete with Taylor Swift? They’re songs that will make the kiddos put their hands over their mouths in the universal sign of sleepy time. Jamey Johnson is like the country music sedative. His super power is the ability to make any country music song boring. He’s the exact reason fans of Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford say country needs to evolve. And in this instance, they are right.
What is the cliche about good cover songs? That the covering artist “made it their own.” At no time on Living for a Song does it feel like Jamey Johnson makes a song his own. Granted, these songs are country. They’re very country. They’re so country, they’re cliche. But just because something is country doesn’t mean it’s good. As I have said about other Jamey Johnson projects, I believe that people are so used to hearing country that doesn’t sound like country, when someone actually plays country music they’re charmed into thinking it’s superb.
If this was a side project cover album, such criticism may not be appropriate. But this album is being so ballyhooed by critics all over the place that it creates the need for a little perspective. Even when looking at Living for a Song as a tribute and a tribute only, the album feels way too busy. It makes the same mistake Willie Nelson’s last album Heroes does of having too many guests. And may I point out that both albums were produced by Buddy Cannon. Like I said about Heroes:
Where the album may come across as too busy or unfocused is the amount of contributors to each composition, and to the album as a whole…Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance.
It’s difficult to focus on Hank Cochran’s songwriting–the purpose of this album–because the people singing switch back and forth so often. Every song but one is a duet, and one song has three singers, one four singers, and one five. Some songs feel mere steps away from “We are the World”.
Willie, Merle, Emmylou, Kristofferson, Bobby Bare and others, these are all great names and I don’t doubt for a second the love for Hank Cochran all the Living for a Song contributors have. But the music is diminished by the sheer number of contributions. For Jamey, this may be a sincere tribute, but to the label, it feels similar to the Hank Williams Lost Notebooks project, like an excuse to showcase talent and shovel money towards Sony/ATV who owns the publishing on these songs.
Aside from the excessive singing parts, there’s nothing wrong with this album. But there’s nothing right either. All the musicians and singers do excellent jobs. The issue is with the approach.
God bless Jamey Johnson for putting together a heartfelt tribute to a country great that has passed on. But Living for a Song is about as lifeless as traditional country music gets. If you want to listen to a great classic country album released in 2012, listen to Don Williams’ And So It Goes. It resides in the same tempo, but brings a uniqueness and a soul that Living for a Song lacks. Or even better, go listen to Hank Cochran’s originals, or the original songs others made hits. These do a better job at selling Cochran’s legacy than this.
If Jamey Johnson wasn’t sold to us so hard, I might begin to appreciate his music on some level. But shoot me that I like my pulse raised when I put on an album.
1 gun up for a beautiful tribute to a fallen country great.
1 gun down for an album that is too busy, overproduced, and downright boring.
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Alright, so we’ve all now had our yucks over this story of a naked Randy Travis being arrested, and I am certainly not above guilt, but I am seeing some fairly alarming rhetoric surrounding this story that I feel is unhealthy to the country music environment. The details of the story may be funny, but the incident is not. Celebrity or no, Randy Travis is a human being who is clearly going through a moment of crisis in his life. And just because he engaged in some illegal behavior shouldn’t give him some additional cred in country music, or somehow means he’s now a country music “Outlaw.”
We expect our celebrities to live larger than life, so that we can too, through them, vicariously. Forget that most artist and performer types are already predisposed to being more susceptible to things like substance abuse and self-destructive behavior, society also sells to them that as artists, they must suffer for their art to be inspired and authentic. It is true that much great art has come from suffering, but it is also true that great art comes from dedication, perseverance, and sweat. And as much as society likes to perch celebrities up on unrealistic pedestals, we also love to tear them down when they trip, in moments of empathetic vacuousness, clawing at them with our jealousy and spite to feel better about ourselves. This is the vicious pop cycle I like to allude to upon occasion, and just like Taylor Swift once said in a famous song, “The cycle ends right now.” Or at least it does here for me.
Are we so diseased in country music that we actually think more of our stars when their lives become a wreck to the point where they’re laying naked in the middle of the road and making death threats to law enforcement? Is this behavior cool? Is this a fate you would wish upon yourself or any of your friends or family? Getting drunk and doing stupid shit may sound like a country song, but facing felonies and a ruined career and loss of a sense of self-worth are very real issues. It is one of the reasons we have a 27 Club, and why suicides and overdoses are such a heavy burden on the celebrity population.
And us lay civilians love to sit back and say, “Oh yeah, you have it real tough with all that money and fame.” But money and fame are broken promises, and many times don’t help pad a celebrity’s fall, they fuel it.
And for the folks saying Randy Travis’s recent troubles make him an “Outlaw” are only fueling the misconceptions of what a country music Outlaw is. I conceded long ago that accurately defining the “Outlaw” term will be a battle of evermore, but trust me, Randy Travis is no more an Outlaw now than he was in 2011, before his drunken behavior was writing headlines.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a country music Outlaw has nothing to do with legalities. The original Outlaws–Bobby Bare, Tompall Glaser, and Kris Kristofferson–were not lawbreakers, nor was Willie Nelson until later in life when he was hit with a few stupid and unnecessary pot arrests. Waylon Jennings positively hated the term “Outlaw” and blamed it for his legal woes when the federalies trailed a package of cocaine from New York to the studio where he was recording, later memorialized in the song “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit Done Got Outta Hand?”
A country music Outlaw is one that bucks the traditional Music Row, old-guard way of music production by writing their own songs, recording with their own bands, and calling their own shots. Lyrical content and personal behavior are not completely autonomous to the “Outlaw” country image thanks to artists like Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe, but the foundation of a country music “Outlaw” has to do with the business of music, not behavior.
Furthermore, the ignorant assertion that personal behavior does influence a country artist’s “Outlaw” status is what is partly fueling this ridiculous and slanderous use of the term by the crop of “new Outlaws” (Eric Church, Justin Moore, Brantley Gilbert, etc.) who think just because they drink too much, talk about fighting, and put women with big tits in their videos they’re carrying on Willie and Waylon’s legacy. Please. Willie Nelson is a pacifist, and probably respects women more than most women respect themselves these days. Being an Outlaw in country means being yourself, and bucking the trends instead of pandering to them. As Sturgill Simpson says, “The most Outlaw thing that a man today can do is give a woman a ring.”
And through this incident, were seeing the rewriting of Randy Travis’s music legacy. Some folks who come to country from the outside looking in are all of a sudden giving his music another look after laughing him off as pop before just because they recognized the name and it wasn’t Johnny Cash, while judgmental types are saying they always knew there was a screw loose with him and they wouldn’t bring themselves down to listening to him again.
This incident didn’t change Randy’s music one bit. Randy has never received enough credit for spearheading both the new push of neo-traditional country and the commercial resurgence of the genre in the late 80′s. One can make the case he set the table for Garth Brooks and country’s return to the stadium and superstar status, without selling out himself.
Randy Travis has given a ton to the country music community, and now in his time of need, it is time for the country music community to give back in the form of support, forgiveness, and understanding.
Whatever is troubling Randy Travis, I hope he works through it to continue to provide the world great country music, and to grow as a person, and as an artist.
Thank you Randy Travis for your music and your service to country music. And even if you’re called home tomorrow, rest assured your legacy is secured in country music, and that it is a positive one.
There’s never been a question in anyone’s mind if Johnny Cash actually shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. But that lyric, and Johnny’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” have gone on to become an iconic piece of country music history. This language was nothing new in 1955. Murder ballads and gunslinger tales trace back to the very roots of country music and America’s Gothic, violent identity.
Stretching the boundaries of lyrical content was something at the very foundation of the early Outlaw movement in country music. As has been pointed out many times before about American culture, violence is perfectly acceptable, but sex can be taboo. Nobody batted an eyelash at “Folsom Prison Blues”, but when the original Outlaw Bobby Bare recorded Tompall Glaser’s “Streets of Baltimore” with it’s fairly docile and veiled reference to a man leaving his wife, it caused a controversy.
Kris Kristofferson pushed the limit for drug references with his song “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Johnny Cash later cut the song himself, and despite the “stoned” lyric, the song went on to be the CMA’s Song of the Year in 1970. The boundaries are continuously being pushed in country, until now in many respects country has lost most of its family friendly identity.
In underground country, racy lyrics have been at the very foundation of the movement, though in no way are they required. Hank Williams III’s Straight to Hell album was the first to ever be released under the CMA with a Parental Advisory, but the salty content is many times misunderstood as being autobiographical, or condoning the behavior being sung about. Sometimes it is, but sometimes, just like with “Folsom Prison Blues” it is telling a story with the real language and themes people face in modern day life.
“There’s just a little misconception…” Hank3 told IBWIP on their 5th Anniversary episode. “All the Williams’ have had a rowdy crowd, whether its Hank Sr., Jr., or myself. Most of my songs have been, you know I’ve lived a lot of them. And once in a while I’ll kind of put myself in other people’s shoes. Like the song “#5″ was some friends of mine that have been hung up on some really hard stuff, you know with the heroin and stuff like that. I just put some hopeful songs out there. Once in a while I’ll put out a little bit of a fantasy out there like the dedicated song to GG (Allin). Those kind of songs I haven’t done anything like some of the topics that hit on that song. I can just project, or put myself in that mode for a little bit.”
“One of the reasons I sing about smoking and drinking and all that stuff so much is because I try to create a partyin’, good time atmosphere when people come to see me. I’m not trying to bring them down, I’m trying to lift them up so they can forget about all their problems and all the stuff that’s happening in the world. And for two or three hours, they can come out to a show and just have some fun. And I always try to tell folks to pace it out as much as possible.”
When reviewing Bob Wayne’s recent album, the topic came up in a heated debate Bob Wayne participated in personally. “…So you’re telling me DAC (David Allan Coe) killed a women in TN then broke out of jail… I think a lot of his songs a true man… But I think he is also a storyteller,” Bob replied to critics. Bob Wayne regularly sings about drinking and drugs while in real life remaining completely sober, just like many underground country artists with racy lyrics like Joe Buck Yourself and Lonesome Wyatt.
It is hard to fault country music fans who do not want to see foul language or hard themes in a genre so tied to traditional values. Just like any genre of music, this is the reason well-defined lines are important so people can steer clear of content they may find offensive. But it is also unfair to fault artists carrying on the same storytelling traditions Johnny Cash and Hank Williams did while modernizing the language no different than how it’s being modernized in the mainstream of country. It’s also unfair to say singing songs you haven’t lived somehow makes them invalid. Street cred, dues, skin’s on the wall, or however you want to phrase it will always be important in country music, but the should never be essential to telling a story.
Hard language presents a challenge to underground country and its aging demographic. Most underground country fans are now in their 30′s. When Hank3′s Straight to Hell came out they were in their 20′s, and could relate better to many of the racy themes. Now, like many of the artists themselves, the fans have grown up, taken real jobs, have kids and spouses, sobered up possibly, and sometimes the hard language songs can come across as immature or hard to relate to.
Barring something similar to the Middle East’s Islamic Revolution, the trend will always arch towards the breaking down of moral barriers to artistic content in culture. With this freedom comes a responsibility to make sure people are only presented with questionable content when they want to be. Instead of looking at other people’s tastes and judging them, maybe we should feel fortunate we live in a time when censorship is lax and people can enjoy the music they find appropriate and appealing without it being run through a filter of other people’s opinions, tastes, or views.
And let’s all hope that the country music themes of morality vs. sin, good vs. evil, sober vs. imbibing, and law vs. the outlaw remain eternal in country music until kingdom come, because this eternal struggle is what we all face every day, and the reason country music speaks to us like nothing else.
The long-awaited movie about the last days of Hank Williams called The Last Ride has finally been granted a theatrical release. It will begin to be shown in select theaters June 22nd, and in a series of historic theaters starting June 1st.
The movie was previously shown in 7 cities in late October of 2011, mostly around Arkansas where the majority of the movie was shot, and both director Harry Thomason, and Henry Thomas (Elliot from ET) who plays Hank Williams are originally from. At that time it was reported a wide release date would be granted sometime in January of 2012, but that release never came. The film will begin a tour of 10 historic theaters around the country (see dates below) as a partnership with Lou Reda Productions.
To make a small contribution to the restoration to beloved historic theaters around the nation, “The Last Ride” is partnering up with Lou Reda Productions and a number of historic theaters to allow an exclusive screening of the film before it opens widely. I seems appropriate that a film about a historic American like Hank Williams is being used to help restore an important piece of America’s heritage – its movie palaces.
The film will then be shown in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Austin, TX from June through August, with more cities potentially to be added soon.
On January 1st 1953, Williams was scheduled to perform in Canton, OH. Because of bad weather, he couldn’t fly as planned, and hired a college student Charles Carr to drive him. Hank suffered from chronic back problems, and had injected himself with morphine during the trip from Knoxville, TN and also was drinking alcohol. Hank Williams died of heart failure sometime that night with varying accounts of exactly where and when, though a gas station in Oak Hill, WV is given credit as Hank’s final destination. Hank was 29.
The Last Ride is not meant to be a historic portrayal of Hank’s final days, but focuses on the interaction between Williams and his young driver, played by Jesse James. Hank is not called by his real name in the movie, instead traveling under the alias “Mr. Wells.”
The movie seems to be going through the same distribution dilemma many small, independent films get dogged with these days. Two other movies that had strong musical ties, Bloodworth, starring Kris Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakam, with an appearance by Hank Williams III, and Last Rites of Ransom Pride, also starring Yoakam and Kristofferson, with score and screenplay contributions by Ray Wylie Hubbard both struggled to find distributions channels, leaving curious fans frustrated.
The Last Ride Historic Theater Tour:
||38 W. Franklin Street, Shelbyville, IN 46176
|June 1-3||Corning Opera House||710 Davis Ave, Corning, IA 50841||641.418.8037|
|June 1-7||ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks Campus||101 Founders Way, Bethlehem, PA 18015||610.297.7100|
|June 2||The Ellen Theatre||17 West Main Street, Bozeman, MT 59715||406.585.5885|
|June 2-3||7th Street Theatre||313 7th Street, Hoquiam, WA 98550||360.537.7400|
|June 7||McPherson Opera House||219 South Main Street, McPherson, KS 67460||620.241.1952|
|June 9||Sheridan Opera House||110 North Oak, Telluride, CO 81435||970.728.6363|
|June 15-18||Lincoln Theatre Foundation||313 W. Kincaid Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273||360.336.8955|
||The Sherman Theater
||524 Main Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360
|July 19-20||Carolina Civic Center Historical Theater||315 North Chestnut Street, Lumberton, NC 28358||910.738.4339|
The Last Ride Theatrical Release
|6/22/2012||New York||Cinema Village ONE WEEK ONLY||22 East 12th St., New York, NY 10003|
|6/29/2012||Los Angeles||Laemmle NoHo 7||5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601|
|7/27/2012||Phoenix||Harkins Shea 14||7354 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ 85260|
|8/10/2012||Atlanta||Lefont Sandy Springs 8||5920 Roswell Rd., Atlanta, GA 30328|
|8/10/2012||Austin||Regal Arbor 8 @Great Hills||9828 Great Hills Trail, Suite 800, Austin, TX 78759|
When an artist rises to such other-worldly status as the one Willie Nelson enjoys, you’re never really sure when listening to a new album if there’s actually some real substance behind the new music, or if you’re simply so wooed by the legacy and mere sound of the man’s voice that he could sing a shopping list and you’d love it.
America experienced this sensation first hand during the Super Bowl this year when Willie’s signature warble showed up in a random Chipotle commercial. It was Coldplay’s song “The Scientist” Willie was singing? Who cares, it was Willie, and we get to relive that moment when that same song caps off his latest record, Heroes.
Popular media has been portraying Heroes as Willie’s pot opus. He initially wanted to call the album “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” for the album’s second track featuring Snoop Dogg among other guests. I’ve said my peace about how I hope Willie Nelson’s legacy is remembered for more than marijuana, but as a song, the “Roll Me Up” title track runner-up is a really fun, witty vintage Willie song. But let’s not bury the lead here about the best thing Heroes has to offer, which is a full scale collaboration between Willie and his singularly-talented son Lukas Nelson, who appears so much on this album, he really should get his name in small type somewhere on the front cover.
As I said in my review of Lukas’s latest album, he is the offspring most rich with Willie blood, with top-shelf guitar playing abilities all his own to boot. If you want to know what a rock & roll version of Willie would be, look to Lukas. Close your eyes when Lukas is singing, and you can almost see Willie, with Lukas’s natural, high-register tone, and perfect pitch and control that doesn’t ape Willie, but evokes his memory. You put these two men together in a song, and it’s a country music audiophile’s orgasm. It is a super-pairing employing skill, legacy, and a cross-generational storyline into a sublime musical experience.
But the Willie/Lukas collaboration is not by far where Heroes stops giving. From a songwriting perspective, this album has some amazing compositions, from the eloquent to the witty, from writers as far ranging as Eddie Vedder, Fred Rose and Bob Wills, to Tom Waits. Once again Lukas shows up prominently in the songwriter notes, contributing three songs himself.
Some have said this album lacks focus. I say it scores points for variety and freshness. From the heart-wrenching songs of love sung by the Lukas/Willie pairing like “The Sound of Your Memory” to the fun, yet poignant and uplifting “Come On Back Jesus (and pick up John Wayne on the way)”, the album touches on all the moods you want to hear from Willie. I’m so glad they decided to roll with with the Heroes title for this release; a much more classy choice that gives an extra shout out to Billy Joe Shaver in the only song Willie wrote by himself on the album.
Where the album may come across as too busy or unfocused is the amount of contributors to each composition, and to the album as a whole. Lukas, Jamey Johnson a couple of times, Kris Kristofferson, Snoop Dogg, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Billy Joe Shaver, Willie’s other son Micah, the omnipresent and overexposed Sheryl Crow, they all appear, and this doesn’t even mention all the musicians. Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance. At times in this album you want to clear the room and just hear Willie, for the same reasons he can single-handedly make a Coldplay song sound like a masterpiece (the Coldplay song is the only one on the album where Willie rides solo).
It’s Willie’s nature to invite anyone and everyone into the process, and his big heart is one of the reasons why we love him so. But at some point you reach a limit with collaboration, especially since Willie likes to sing in such an unusual, off-tempo pentameter that makes him not the best duet partner, and because this album is in no way presented as a “duets” release. I love the cover of Heroes though. Willie’s inspiring and calming countenance speaks countless words and stories, and the plaintive cover allows his visage to speak for itself without interruption or embellishment. It recollects to the etching on the front of his magnum opus Red Headed Stranger.
This album is good both because it is Willie, and because it is good. After years of navigating through a gray area in his career and having to dabble with some record labels probably less able to do a Willie release justice, he’s back with the same company who released Red Headed Stranger, and back to making albums worthy of the world stopping down to pay attention to.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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So once again Eric Church has accomplished the open mouth, insert foot trick in an attempt to prove to all of us just how much of an “Outlaw” he is. In the latest edition of The Rolling Stone, not the last one with Obama on the cover, or the other one with Obama on the cover, but the newest one with Obama on the cover, Eric Church twists off on Blake Shelton, dropping F-bombs, and saying Blake is “not an artist” for his role on NBC’s American Idol answer “The Voice”:
It’s become American Idol gone mad. Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green fucking turn around in a red chair, you get a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist…If I was concerned about my legacy, there’s no fucking way I would ever sit there [and be a reality-show judge]. Once your career becomes something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I fucking starve.
Then Eric Church turned his evil eye veiled behind his signature aviators on the current state of the institution of rock n’ roll.
Rock & Roll has been very emo or whatever the fuck. It’s very hipster. We played Lollapalooza and I was stunned at how pussy 90 percent of those bands were. Nobody’s loud. It’s all very fuckin’ Peter, Paul and Mary shit.
On the surface, what Eric Church said about Blake Shelton and “The Voice” is spot on. The problem is that Eric Church, whose very much a product of the same machine Blake Shelton originates from, is the one throwing the punches. Eric Church is on tour right now with the official country music douche Brantley Gilbert for crying out loud. He wants to be considered an “Outlaw”, but he takes every opportunity to be part of the big corporate country music machine by performing at award shows. If Eric Church has such a problem with Blake Shelton, why did he perform his song “Springsteen” at last month’s ACM Awards, that were hosted by, guess who… Blake Shelton.
As Blake’s wife Miranda Lambert pointed out through Twitter, she took Eric out on tour with her in 2010. “Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist,” she tweeted. “You’re welcome for the tour in 2010.”
Erich Church wants it both ways. He wants to be considered the “new Outlaw” of country music, but he wants to still use the same pop country machine he criticizes to get success. And when exactly did calling out other performers make you an Outlaw? I sure don’t remember Willie or Waylon doing that in their Outlaw days. I remember Waylon skipping the award shows, not making self-aggrandizing videos to help drum up votes from fans. And if you can’t do anything but play music to be an artist, does that mean Outlaws Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are disqualified because they acted in movies?
This is the same thing Eric Church has been doing for years. The difference now though is Eric Church is no longer playing a club circuit or even a theater circuit. He’s selling out arenas. He’s a bona fide top tier country music star. I am amazed that his last album Chief released last July is still #4 on the Billboard country charts, and was the greatest gainer last week, helped by his big hit “Springsteen.”
But bad habits die hard, and he’s still acting like he has to insult people to get noticed. So many people have their conspiracy theories of how Taylor Swift came to power in country, floating stories about her dad buying her career, and warehouses full of CD’s purchase to drive SoundScan numbers to get her album in the charts. But in truth her big break came when Eric was on tour with Rascal Flatts. Yeah, again, not very “Outlaw”. After repeatedly ignoring Flatts’ requests to not play as loud and to respect the time slot they had given him, since after all, they were giving Eric Church an opportunity, he got kicked off the tour, opening up a space for the up-and-coming Taylor Swift to benefit from the exposure.
Even if I may agree with some of the things Eric Church says, its hard to believe him. I don’t want him representing the dissent against corporate country music, because he’s part of corporate country music, and he fights dirty.
Lastly, this Rolling Stone article should be taken with a little suspicion. The financially-struggling outlet has a history of taking comments out of context, printing comments that were meant to be off-record, and at times publishing outright fictitious stories to help drive buzz and viral events, just like with what has happened with this story where everywhere you turn, people are talking about it. For example there was the story pitting Kris Kristofferson against Toby Keith that both sides say is completely fictitious, or the article that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal fired. Don’t be surprised if Eric in the coming days comes out and says that his comments were misconstrued in one way or another.
As I anticipated, Eric Church has released a statement through The Boot, saying his comments in The Rolling Stone were “misunderstood.”
“The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves,” Eric clarifies. “The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success. There are a lot of artists due to their own perseverance that have gone on to be successful after appearing on these shows, but the real obstacles come after the cameras stop rolling. Every artist has to follow up television appearances with dedication towards their craft, but these shows tend to gloss over that part and make it seem like you can be ordained into stardom. I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry. Many people have come to think they can just wake up and have things handed to them.
“This piece was never intended to tear down any individual, and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.
Country music songwriting legend and original Outlaw Billy Joe Shaver will be releasing a loaded 20-song CD package with companion DVD called Live at Billy Bob’s Texas on July 17th, recorded in the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk”. This will be Shaver’s first album in five years after winning a court battle for aggravated assault in April of 2010, and heart surgery in May of 2010, and after taking some time off from touring due to a shoulder issue.
From The Press Release:
The fully loaded special package includes 20 live renditions of some of his most notable compositions on an audio CD and DVD as well as two bonus tracks, and is the first set of new concert recordings since 1995 to be issued to the public. Included among Shaver classics and favorites are two new songs: “Wacko From Waco” (co-written with his longtime friend Willie Nelson) and “The Git Go,” proving that his muse remains as fertile as ever.
As a songwriter, Shaver’s songs have been recorded by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kris Kristofferson, The Allman Brothers, Bobby Bare, BR549, Elvis Presley, John Anderson, George Jones, Tex Ritter, and Patty Loveless amongst others. Waylon’s landmark album Honky Tonk Heroes included all Billy Joe Shaver songs except for one.
Billy Joe Shaver will be the 42nd artist to release a “Live at Billy Bob’s” album, company that includes David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. He recorded the album with his young, rocking band guitarist Jeremy Woodall, drummer Jason Lynn McKenzie, and bassist Matt Davis. Even at 72, Shaver still delivers a very high energy set, punctuated by his punching and personality on stage.
Some of the Shaver songs to be included on Live at Billy Bob’s are:
- Heart of Texas
- Georgia on a Fast Train
- Honky Tonk Heroes
- Old Chunk of Coal
- Live Forever
- Old Five and Dimers
- That’s What She Said Last Night
- Black Rose
- Hottest Thing in Town
- Good Old USA
- I Couldn’t Be Me Without You
- Star in My Heart (a Capella)
- You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ
- Wacko From Waco (studio bonus)
- The Git Go (studio bonus)
- Karl on Circumstances of Wayne Mills’ Death Leave Many Questions
- Will on Circumstances of Wayne Mills’ Death Leave Many Questions
- That Guy on Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band Shot Fatally in Nashville
- That Guy on Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band Shot Fatally in Nashville
- Michael Burkhalter, San Diego on Destroying The Dixie Chicks – Ten Years After