Browsing articles tagged with " Merle Haggard"
May
22

Country Music Writes A Letter to Garth Brooks

May 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  55 Comments

garth-brooksGarth! Hey buddy, it’s been a long time. Yeah, I know, we’ve seen each other in passing here and there. Some appearances at the award shows and such, and that whole thing out in Vegas and the recent box set release, though I’m not really sure if any of that counts. But hey, don’t worry, I’m not jumping on your butt or anything. You hung the moon for me for over a decade, and no matter what you decide to do from here on out, I’m forever in your debt for taking me to levels I thought were never possible, flying over stadiums on suspension wires and inspiring the Billy Ray Cyrus’s of the world notwithstanding. Hell I don’t even know that I can get worked up about all of that stuff anymore, or about your whole Chris Gaines gimmick, or for trying out for the Padres baseball team. I get it now. You were bored. You had climbed the mountain, conquered it, and were looking for the next challenge. Well let me tell you Garth, if you’re looking for a good challenge, I’ve got one. A big one. And this is one you might be able to accomplish. In fact, you might be the only one left on Earth who can.

Don’t think for a second that I blame you for taking a dozen-plus years off to spend time with your family, please. In fact I commend you for it. If we all spent a little more time putting family first, this probably would be a much more pleasant world to live in. Hell, don’t think the idea of dialing it all back doesn’t cross my mind every damn day, yet here I am working like a three-peckered billy goat. Do you know they say that country music is the biggest American music genre now? Ha, did you ever think we’d see that day Garth?

But this is the problem old friend. They’ve thrown the barn doors wide, and now everybody and their cousin is calling themselves country, and it’s gotten completely out of control. Be careful what you wish for, right Garth? I mean we’ve got DJ’s who don’t do anything but stand behind a couple of turntables pressing buttons now calling themselves country, rappers calling themselves country, hard rockers calling themselves country. It’s to the point now where I yearn for the days where Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift were the biggest pains in my ass. I look back now at the time when they said you were ruining the genre as the good ol’ days. By the way, do you have any idea if Waylon Jennings ever really said that line, “Garth Brooks did to country music what pantyhose did to finger $#@!ing?” Because for the life of me, I can’t verify it anywhere. And yeah, I know I just censored myself. But to some of us Garth, country music is still a family format.

I’m swallowing my pride here Garth. I need your help. Whether it was you and I pairing up in the in the 90′s to sell all those records that truly stimulated all these problems in the first place or not, the simple fact is you and I coming back together could maybe spell the end of it, or at least restoring some sort of balance to where if someone turns on their radio and tunes it to a country station, they might actually hear something that sounds like country.

I know there’s no need to pry you off you’re couch or anything; you’ve already got all the plans in the works for your big triumphant return, so this is not the direction my pleas are headed. What I want to implore you to do Garth is to keep it country. For the love of all things holy, keep it country. Please, as a favor to your old pal. Just be yourself. This is no longer about about trying to turn away the hordes who will call anything “country.” Truth is they won the battle years ago. That ship has sailed. This is about storming the gates ourselves, and taking back what is ours. You may be the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music, but as I’m sure you know Garth, country music is bigger than any one person (not to gloat, but you know…), and it is the responsibility of everyone, however big or small, to preserve and protect the country music institution, especially an artist like yourself whose benefited in the manner of untold riches from it.

They can say what they want about you Garth. There are old codgers and punks out there that will bad mouth your name no matter how the rules of the game change, and how much time redeems your past accomplishments. Actually, you want to put those critics to bed? Simply put out a true country album that is successful, and those people’s anger will turn to nostalgia and appreciation. I know deep inside of you is still that little boy from Oklahoma that grew up listening to Merle Haggard and George Jones; that appealed to the masses not by borrowing from other genres, but from finding and writing meaningful songs and singing them from the heart. Some focus on your wireless mic and your flawless, almost too-perfect presentation. But I focus in the fire in your eye, the aching moan in your voice that mimics a steel guitar the comes bursting through the mix to remind us all of the magic that country music can evoke when done right.

And you Garth, and only you, may still have the power at this late hour to remind the masses of that magic.

You did it once for the money Garth. Now, do it once for the music. Because we need it now more than ever.

Your once strained, but now rehabilitated and appreciative friend,

–Country Music

May
1

Could Luke Bryan’s Version of “Pancho & Lefty” Be a Hit?

May 1, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  39 Comments

luke-bryan-001On April Fool’s day, Broken Bow Records released a 20-track Merle Haggard Tribute called Working Man’s Poet, primarily as a showcase for the roster’s talent. Big Broken Bow acts like Jason Aldean, Thompson Square, and Dustin Lynch make multiple appearances on the collection, but one of the most heavily-touted songs from the album has been Luke Bryan’s version of “Pancho & Lefty” with Dierks Bentley. The approach of the track is said to to have been inspired by Mumford & Sons. “The original had a Spanish-Mexican flair,” Bryan explains. “We took a real different approach with it …. something with some edge that moves along pretty good. It’s an interesting take.”

The first question this song begged was, should this really be considered a Merle Haggard song? “Pancho & Lefty” was originally written and recorded by acclaimed Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. A later version appeared on an album of the same name that was a collaboration between Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson in 1983, but Willie sang most of the song, with Merle only contributing one verse.

Nonetheless, Luke Bryan’s version with Dierks made the cut, and subsequently drew the favorable ear of Mere’s son and Strangers guitar player Ben Haggard who appears on the tribute multiple times himself. “You know, Luke Bryan’s a great artist, but I never really listened to his stuff,” Ben told Country Weekly earlier this month. “I just listened to ‘Pancho and Lefty’ about five minutes ago and it blew me away. I’m in love with it.”

Ben went on to give his assessment of the tune if it was ever released to radio as a single. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a hit. It could be a monster—again.” The Willie & Merle version was a #1 in 1983. This begs the question, could Luke Bryan’s version of “Pancho & Lefty” really be released to radio as a single, and somehow become a hit all over again?

The one thing we know is right now, there’s no country star hotter than Luke Bryan. Luke is on a roll, scoring one huge hit single after another, with his latest “Play It Again” at #1, and his collaboration with Florida-Georgia Line called “This Is How We Roll” at #2 on Billboard’s country chart. If Luke and his management did decide to release the song to radio there’s a very good likelihood it would do well simply off of Luke’s name, and Dierks Bentley is a pretty hot commodity at the moment as well.

Combine that with the overwhelming cover success Darius Rucker recently had with Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” and it’s not ridiculous to think that Luke’s “Pancho & Lefty” could become a hit, creating the same strange dichotomy “Wagon Wheel” did for independent country fans where you’re happy there’s a cool song getting played on the radio, but hesitant about the circumstances of how it got there. A Merle tribute song written by Townes Van Zandt topping the charts? Awesome. Performed by Luke Bryan? Not so much. And it turns out that there already has been a few spins of the song on MediaBase-monitored radio stations (a meager total of four, but still interesting for a cover song on a tribute album).

But don’t steal yourself for disappointment, or get your hopes up that “Pancho & Lefty” 3.0 will become the next “Wagon Wheel” and put the deceased Townes Van Zandt at the top of today’s country chart. As Saving Country Music’s go to guru for all things country radio Windmills Country points out, since the Merle Haggard tribute was released by Broken Bow, but Luke Bryan is a Capitol Records Nashville artist, it is unlikely that Luke’s song is the one they would release as a single, if they release any singles from the tribute. Releasing a single to mainstream country radio costs lots of money for labels to promote, and so it is unlikely that Broken Bow would do this for an artist on another roster, similar how it is less likely that Capitol Nashville would figure out how to release it as a single since it originated from Broken Bow.

The other issue is that Luke Bryan already has a slew of singles out there to radio doing very very well, and so does Dierks Bentley. Labels do not like having singles compete with each other, so if “Pancho & Lefty” was released, it would likely be well after Luke’s current albums are out of single material.

Nonetheless, it is certainly curious that the most lauded song on the album is Luke Bryan’s, especially since he’s not signed to Broken Bow. In the press releases and other promotional material, it is by far the most talked about track, and it could have been targeted by Broken Bow’s A&R as the best song to help sell the album to the public. Depending on the licensing behind the song, the track could also be selected to be released on a deluxe edition of Luke’s current album Crash My Party—a practice that a lot of labels are doing with artists to extend the release cycle, and making it more likely it could appear as a single. So who knows. It somewhat feels like fantasy football to talk about the track becoming a hit, but there is certainly a lot of chatter surrounding it. We very well might be seeing Luke Bryan shaking it to “Pancho & Lefty” in the future, for better or worse.

There’s no embeddable version of Luke Bryan’s version, so here’s the Willie & Merle’s original.

Apr
23

The Secret Sisters Shine Through In “Put Your Needle Down”

April 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  15 Comments

the-secret-sisters-put-your-needle-downProduced by T Bone Burnett, the new Secret Sisters album called Put Your Needle Down—the sister duo’s first record in nearly four years—was produced by T Bone Burnett. T Bone Burnett produced this sophomore effort, and lending his efforts in a production role was T Bone Burnett. T Bone Burnett, T Bone Burnett, T Bone Burnett.

Did I mention that T Bone Burnett produced this album? Okay good. Because apparently that’s a more important point than who this album is by and what it’s titled, and T Bone’s name must precede this information in any copy or conversation.

It’s not that T Bone Burnett isn’t an accomplished and successful producer. I mean hell, you can’t stick your nose anywhere in the Americana realm without finding apostles of T Bone telling you how brilliant he is. The problem though is the hype around his work has become so pervasive, I’m afraid he’s begun to believe it himself, and uses it as justification to employ an extremely heavy hand in his producer capacity, relegating the artists he works with as secondary, if not arbitrary to furthering the weight behind his own name. Or at least, that’s the way it sounds.

No doubt T Bone Burnett is a towering man of music. There’s no denying his record. But that doesn’t give him the right, or make it right to overhaul, supplant, or bury the God-given sound, style, and talent the artists he works for are born with. People can come to T-Bone’s defense and say that this is the fate these artists chose when they signed up to work with him, but it still doesn’t erase the fact that the role of a producer is supposed to be one of a subordinate. Yes, the producer should guide and mentor, but the best producers in the business do not reshape artists into their own appointed image, they coax the best attributes already alive in artists out into the open to be captured in the recorded context. Inexplicably, with The Secret Sisters and Put Your Needle Down, T Bone Burnett does both.

This album shouldn’t be characterized as The Secret Sisters with T Bone Burnett. It should be couched as The Secret Sisters versus T Bone Burnett. Such an over-produced wall of serrated sounds punishes the ear throughout this album, it’s like trying to view the Eiffel Tower through a plague of locusts: You know there’s something very pretty and breathtaking there, but you have to fight with flailing arms to see, and you’re rarely allowed to relax and bask in its beauty.

T Bone Burnett’s production doesn’t seem to have any sense or respect for the time and place The Secret Sisters’ music naturally evokes; their music seems only the canvas for T Bone to do his worst. After the very first song, I was already tired of the ever-present tambourine on this album, which permeates this record deeper than a sheepdog’s flea dip. The tambourine rattles inside your skull like a ricocheting bullet; steadfast and unrelenting. I couldn’t get the iconic image of Will Ferrell banging on a cowbell from that famous Saturday Night Live skit out of my head, but replaced by a round, jingle-filled adult-sized death rattle. Mucky, incongruent moans of excessively chorus-inflected guitar tones burden this work like the apparitions that keep you in slow motion as you’re being pursued in a nightmare by an apex predator.

Am I being a teeny bit harsh here maybe? Is some deep-seated, unnecessary hatred for all things T Bone shining through and compromising my integrity? Perhaps, but I’ll tell you, despite the monstrosity T Bone constructed though his work on this album, I love Put Your Needle Down. I think this album is great—one captivating song after another. Why? Because no different than how the primitive artists of country had to fight through poor production situations when they were making the very first country albums, or in the 60′s when Music Row producers couldn’t resist adding strings and choruses to every damn song, or in the 80′s when everyone decided the best thing to do was get into the keyboard business and over-modulate the hell out of the drum signals, good songs, and good artists will always shine through. And that’s what The Secret Sisters are, and that’s what The Secret Sisters did on Put Your Needle Down.

the-secret-sistersAnd if we’re going to smear T Bone with such colorful language, we also have to give him credit. Whether it was by accident, on purpose, or despite his best efforts, on Put Your Needle Down, the sheer, untouched genius of The Secret Sisters was unearthed in all of its dazzling beauty, and captured so splendidly despite the production woes, that you could fall under it’s spell even if you had to listen through an A-bomb blast.

Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers were born and raised in one of the holy lands of American music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Fertilized with music from George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Doc Watson, and singing in a church that had no instruments, their Southern harmonies were born with such a purity that can only be found in sister siblings. When The Secret Sisters harmonize, it is the sound a pining heart makes, or the sound emitted when a crack cleaves the soul. Or it’s the salve that mends the heart and soul, depending on the theme of the story their soaring voices carry.

Their first, self-titled album from 2010 was a selection of classic country-style songs and was produced by Dave Cobb–famous for working recently with both Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson on their critically-acclaimed albums—with T Bone Burnett breathing down Cobb’s neck as an “executive producer.” The Secret Sisters debut captured them in their most native environment, and in a sincere, country offering. No, my defacing of T Bone’s effort has nothing to do with him taking this album in a non-country direction; it’s that he didn’t respect the natural sound of The Secret Sisters. He could have added some rock or progressive sounds here and there, but the production effort of Put Your Needle Down was a complete whitewashing. And get this: I’m so dug in on this stance, I don’t even care if The Secret Sisters disagree.

But damn if I don’t love virtually everything The Secret Sisters themselves do on this album. Put Your Needle Down differs, and his enhanced from their first album by featuring mostly original songs. The pain and desperation captured in their performances on tracks like “Iuka” and “The Pocket Knife” evoke the plight inherent in the female condition when it’s torn and tested by the villainous priorities of men. The heights reached in the chorus of the 50′s-ish do woppy “Black And Blue” with the sisters harmonies dancing and twirling in such synchronicity, like smoke-trailed acrobats rising eloquently and unresponsive to gravity until it is impossible to discern them apart in formation, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

One respite from T Bone the Terrible’s reign is on the subdued and simple “Lonely Island”, which if recorded 50 years ago, would be a standard of the country music song book today. It is simply a masterpiece.

And as jarring and inappropriate as the production of this album is, you even get to a point where you’re okay with it, if for no other reasons than refusing to let it ruin what was going on here beneath the layers and layers of over-production, and the fogginess that besets this album—sometimes a symptom of when a project’s mixes have been reworked too many times, especially when they are recorded on 2-inch tape to capture the “warmth” that Audiophiles love to preach about. And yes, I understand what T Bone was trying to do here: he was trying to take something classic and pure, and make it hip and progressive to appeal to a wider audience. On paper, there’s nothing wrong with that. But from a production standpoint, it didn’t work. T Bone was not the right one to try this feat with this particular project.

And why did it take nearly 1 1/2 years for this album to get to our ears? It was recorded in December of 2012, and January of 2013. I think there’s a story there in itself, if only to answer why two young women with the wind behind their backs from their first album had to wait so long for a second release.

But I’ll be damned, I really, really enjoy this album overall. Simply put, The Secret Sisters are the best female duo out there right now, and Put Your Needle Down comes highly recommended….with the obvious production caveat.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Put Your Needle Down

Apr
16

Moot Davis & “Goin’ In Hot” Are Worth A Good Listen

April 16, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  38 Comments

moot-davis-2

Now this is what I’m talking about.

I’ve been wanting to tug on the sainted Saving Country Music reader’s ear about Moot Davis for years, and who knows what all kinds of dumb excuses have conspired up to this point to not allow that to happen. But the release of his latest Goin’ In Hot is just about the perfect damn opportunity if there ever was one to stop everything else down and sing the praises of this man’s superlative country music contributions.

Despite his name lending naturally to that “I’ve heard that name before” cliché, it’s confounding why Moot isn’t much better known within the ranks of classic country and neotraditional fans. Maybe it’s because he’s terrible at promoting himself or playing that whole social network game, or because he’s nestled way up there in New Jersey these days, out of the earshot of country music’s well-established shipping channels. But I’ll be damned if this guy can’t go hard on the twang as much as anyone, and gets the true spirit behind country songwriting better than most.

Moot has put out one good country music project after another, but we better count ourselves lucky as hell we even get to listen to Goin’ In Hot. In June of 2013 the studio in Nashville where the album was recorded went up in flames, and the fear was everything was lost. The whole thing was already in the can, mixed, and ready to go when a blaze gutted the control room of guitarist Joe McMahan’s home studio. Miraculously, the hard drive from McMahan’s scoarched and water-soaked computer was salvaged and somehow the master files for Goin’ In Hot survived. Now if that isn’t one hell of a baptismal for your record, I don’t know what is.

moot-davis-goin-in-hotWhat got me especially worked up about this release was the Gram Parsons-esque cover and the communication ahead of the album that it had some inspiration from the Stones’ Keith Richards. That whole needle & spoon era and the sweat captured on those recordings is something many bands strive for and very few perfect, and that dirty, loose sound is something missing in country today. With songs like “Just Left Home” and “Made For Blood”, Moot does his best to recapture that magic while not just trying to be interpretive, but let the inspirations flow through his own music and style.

Still at its heart Goin’ In Hot is a country music record and covers tremendous ground in both style and influence. From shit kickers like the rousing “Midnight Train” or the Yoakam-like “Love Hangover”, to more somber, singer-songwriter tracks like “The Reason” that very easily could have been written by Merle Haggard, Moot grabs the country-leaning listener by the scruff right off the bat and pulls you into this album; steel guitar moaning and squalling high in the mix like Ralph Mooney, “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart’s guitar player) playing producer and putting his proven country music touch all over this record, and the sweet and talented Nikki Lane lending her voice to the effort in spots. Along with Moot’s backing band, “The Good Americans” that includes Michael Massimino, drummer Joe Mekler and guitarist Bill Corvino, they make a record that is both timeless and relevant, and satiates all sectors of your salivating country music palette.

The way the tracks are ordered on Goin’ In Hot could have been handled a little better. After the first couple of songs, the whole Gram/Richards-inspired tracks are a little too front loaded, and if they’re not your speed, may act as a wormhole for your attention span. But the country tracks come hard and heavy later in the album, and the country/drug rock influences blend quite well in the album’s final offering, the fun and freaky “25 Lights”.

Moot Davis was once called “thinking man’s country” by NPR, and maybe because he’s known as a world traveler and runs in different circles than most independent country artists, he’s seen as some sort of upper crust crooner as opposed to an authentic country soul. But what Moot gets more than most is the simplicity of perspective inherent in good country music. Maybe that perspective is bred more from an intelligent ear than authentic personal experiences, or maybe it comes from both. Either way, Moot is able to communicate those depths of human emotion in a way that doesn’t usurp the joy from the music, making for an approach that feels fresh, yet familiar, and making it worthy of a wide audience.

Two guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Goin’ In Hot

Apr
13

Collin Raye: Country Has Become “Dumbed Down”

April 13, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  72 Comments

collin-raye

Country music artist Collin Raye’s career accomplishments can fly under your radar if you’re not careful, because he was never as flashy as some of his contemporaries like Garth Brooks. But with sixteen #1 hits and five platinum albums earned after becoming a solo artist in 1991, Collin Raye is a more decorated artist than most.

The singer recently released a memoir called A Voice Undefeated, and in the book he speaks candidly about his detest for what is currently happening in country music. “They’ve largely abandoned the reality-based moral message for the common man that made country music a strong cultural force for good,” Raye says, and then continues to say how he’s worried some of the most gifted people in Nashville are watering down their talents to appeal to the lowest common denominator just to sell records.

In a recent interview with Fox News (see below), Collin delves even further into his dissent about the direction of country music.

I’m passionate about it because I love our genre. I got into country music not to make a buck. I did it because I love it … I grew up at a time when Merle Haggard was writing stuff like “Mama’s Hungry Eyes” and “Sing Me Back Home”. Kristofferson was writing “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Me & Bobby McGee” and stuff like that. It was poetry. Country music has never been about the chord progression or the complexity of the music. It’s always been about lyrics and stories, and real life slices of life. And the one common thread has always been poetry. It’s like American Shakespeare in a way, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. From Hank Williams, to before Hank Williams on up, that’s this beautiful thing we all love so much, and so many of us got into the business knowing we could never be as great as those guys, but we always tried to live up to that standard that they had set.

And I’m really depressed in how it has dumbed down to basically a one-dimensional “Let’s party in the truck, gonna drink some cold beer!” There’s so many of those, and I’m not begrudging anybody their living. It’s not really the artists I blame, and it’s not the songwriters I blame because they’re just trying to make a living. It’s the gatekeepers quote unquote that we used to have in Nashville which are the label heads who used to decide what was good enough to put out and what was not. And now they’ve just totally given into that.

Collin Raye is not known for traditional country music, but for very contemporary-sounding country, including some music that made use of keyboards and synthesizers. But the lyrics still achieved a standard that is virtually vacant on today’s country radio.

The topic of Collin Raye’s book also raised eyebrows on Clear Channel’s syndicated morning program The Bobby Bones Show in late March. Bobby Bones, while professing his fandom for Collin (they’re both from Arkansas), diagnosed Collin with “old man syndrome” for criticizing current country music. “Luke Bryan—you can see things you shouldn’t be able to see on Luke when he dances because his pants are so tight.” Bobby Bones said. “And that’s not trashy, that’s juts how he does it … That’s just the culture now … It’s called old man syndrome. It’s that group going to the next group.”

Or it speaks to the steady decline of culture that Collin Raye seeks to raise awareness about with his comments; a decline that has seen the general erosion of the value of country music to deliver something more than catchy lyrics and an infectious beat.

Apr
1

16 Great Sons & Daughters of Country Music Greats

April 1, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  38 Comments

Country music isn’t just a genre of music, it is a musical religion, a way of life, a cultural lineage passed down from generation to generation and preserved through the blood and bond of its performers and fans. That’s why it seems country music performers so very often tend to turn out to be the parents of country music performers themselves.

Let’s take a look at some of country music’s greatest sons and daughters.


Justin Townes Earle

justin-townes-earleSon of alt-country pioneer Steve Earle, and middle namesake of the man who was good friends with his father and considered one of the greatest songwriters ever, Justin Townes Earle has spent the last seven or so years trying to live up to the lofty expectations of both names, and has done so valiantly. Releasing a startling debut EP in 2007 called Yuma, Earle and his obsession with the craft of songwriting have led to critical success for the five albums he’s released through Bloodshot Records. Considered by many as one of the biggest names in the new generation of alt-country/Americana performers, Justin has done it not by being a chip off the old block, but by forging his own path.

Justin’s relationship with his father has been rocky over the years. Steve Earle left Justin and his mother when Justin was just 2-year-old, and the younger Earle had a tumultuous, troubled, and at times, drug-fueled childhood. But he has soldiered on to carry a name all his own.


Waylon Payne

The son of Willie Nelson’s long-time guitarist Jody Payne and Grammy Award-winning country music singer Sammi Smith, Waylon is named after his Godfather, Waylon Jennings. Raised by his aunt and uncle due to his parents’ heavy touring schedules, Payne attended seminary after high school and was on track to become a minister before catching the music bug. For a while Payne was part of the popular Eastbound and Down country night at the King King Club in Hollywood where performers would swap classic country songs. Payne later released the album The Drifter in 2004 through Republic Universal.

Music isn’t Waylon Payne’s only creative calling though. He may be known more as an actor than a musician. In the award-winning Johnny Cash film I Walk The Line, Payne played Jerry Lee Lewis. He also played country great Hank Garland in a small film called Crazy, along with making numerous television appearances, including on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


Hank Williams III (or Hank3) 

hank3-photoThe grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr., if there was ever a spitting image of country music’s first superstar, it would be him. He not only carries the visage and build of Hank Sr., but also the voice and writing style when he wants to go in that direction. The youngest Hank though has a hankering to delve into the wild side of music as well, and has released multiple punk albums during his career that has now stretched into two decades.

Hank3 started out playing drums and guitar in underground punk bands, with no real drive to be a part of the country music machine. But when a paternity suit put him in court, he decided to sign with Curb Records, and entered into a tumultuous period with the label that at the least resulted in multiple landmark records, including the neo-traditional country stalwart Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’, and his double album opus Straight to Hell. Hank3 is now an independent artist, and carries on the family tradition of doing the music he wants and defying expectation.


Holly Williams

The granddaughter of Hank Williams, daughter of Hank Jr., and half sister of Hank Williams III has had a somewhat strange musical journey, but one that has seen her bloom recently to become one of the leading females in country/Americana, keeping the music true to its roots while moving it forward.

Holly’s early career saw her sign to major labels like Universal South and Mercury Nashville, trying to break into the big time, but always seemingly with one foot in, and one foot out of that mainstream approach to music. She was also seriously injured in a near fatal crash in 2006 along with her sister Hilary who also is a performer. Then in February of 2013, Holly released The Highway independently, and since then has become a critical darling and a live performer not to miss. Though there were some that at times wondered if Holly was just a famous name, she’s proven recently that she’s so much more.


Ben Haggard

ben-haggardThe son of Merle Haggard and an official member of Merle’s legendary backing band The Strangers, Ben is a chip off the old block when it comes to slinging Telecasters and perfecting the West Coast, twangy Bakersfield tradition of loud and electric country music. Patterned in the mold of the pioneer of the craft, the under-appreciated Roy Nichols, Ben can be seen plying his craft and staring at the back of his father on any given night out on the road. This isn’t just your usual slot filled by a family member on stage. Ben’s skills are regarded by his musician peers as being standalone from any famous name.


Shooter Jennings

shooter-jenningsThe only child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, Shooter started his musical journey in the rock band Stargunn before signing with Universal South in 2005 and releasing his first country record, Put The ‘O’ Back In Country. He subsequently released two more country records infused with some Southern rock & roll before putting out his rock opus, the experimental album Black Ribbons. Shooter re-established his country roots with the 2012 album Family Man, followed up by 2013′s The Other Life.

Like many of country music’s famous sons and daughters, Shooter Jennings marches to his own drum, but always seems to come back to the country music fold.


Jubal Lee Young

Son of legendary Outlaw country songwriter and performer Steve Young (Lonesome, Onry & Mean, Seven Bridges Road), and songwriter Terrye Newkirk, Jubal Lee Young from Muskogee, Oklahoma put out an album in 2011 called Take It Home that included the song “There Ain’t No Outlaws Any More” that loudly proclaims, “Here comes another badass sellin’ Nashville rock and roll, long hair, denim and tattoos, lookin’ on’ry and mean. Singin’ songs about that lonesome road, some of ‘em might even be true. But there ain’t no outlaws anymore…”

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Hank Williams Jr.

hank-jrThe most obvious and most successful of country music’s greatest sons, Hank Williams Jr. is very likely a future country music Hall of Famer, and has won multiple CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards and sold millions of albums. He started out his career as a virtual impersonator of his famous father, but rebelled against this preordained future to become so much more. Hank Jr. took a precipitous fall off of Ajax Mountain in Montana in 1975, landing on his face, and having to go through multiple surgeries before he could return to performing. And when he did, he quickly became known as “Rockin’” Randall Hank as he emerged with a sound that was just as much Southern rock as country.

In the mid 80′s, Hank Williams Jr. was one of country’s biggest stars, and now sits as a legend in the genre. He also is responsible for two other famous country offspring: Hank Williams III and Holly Williams, and a 2nd daughter Hilary Williams has also been a performer.


Georgette Jones

The only daughter of the country music super pairing of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Georgette was said to have a recording contract on the day she was born. She recorded her first song at the ripe age of ten with her dad called “Daddy Come Home.” From there Georgette began singing backup for her mom, and she has gone on to become an accomplished songwriter and solo performer herself. Georgette has released numerous albums, including three for Heart of Texas Records. Her latest album Til I Can Make It On My Own is a tribute to her mother.

Georgette also appeared in the TV Series Sordid Lives and recorded numerous songs for the soundtrack, including Tammy Wynette tunes. She also recently released a memoir called The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George, Georgette Jones.


Shelli Coe

shelli-coeDaughter of David Allan Coe, Shelli was born in Nashville and raised in Austin, and appeared at the tender age of 3-years-old on her father’s Family Album project. She later worked as a backup singer for her father before landing in Branson, MO for a while where she performed in clubs, collaborated with other songwriters and appeared on the album Branson Songwriters Out in the Streets. Shelli subsequently returned to Austin where she is known to perform off and on. Her first full-length CD A Girl Like Me was released in 2010, and is worth a listen for folks that like traditional country music.


Lukas Nelson

lukas-nelson-sxsw-2014Surrounded by a bevy of musical siblings and one awfully famous father, the argument can be made that Lukas was the Willie offspring that received the most potent douse of Willie’s musical genes, and has a powerful voice to match his father’s. A dynamic, top-flight performer with a sound that trends much closer to rock than country, but still has an earthy, rootsy feel nonetheless, Lukas is on a fast track to becoming a superstar all his own.

From his towering leg kicks, to playing the guitar with his teeth, at only 23-years-old, Lukas could already be crowned as a guitar god. Leading his band The Promise of the Real, they’ve made waves in the music world on big tours. About the only thing holding the young star back is that rock music is in a weird spot right now, and guitar blazers are not what the masses are particularly looking for. But like his father, Lukas is not worried about anything but following his heart, and he promises to have a very bright future ahead of him with a tower of talent to draw from.


Eddie Shaver

Son of Outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver, Eddie Shaver was one of the best country music guitar shredders to ever take the stage. Aside from being his father’s right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player for the first two years of Dwight’s career.

It’s only because of Eddie’s untimely death that he’s not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.


June Carter

01374463.JPGThough one might first think of June Carter as more of a mother of famous country artists instead of a daughter of them, June Carter is arguably the first daughter of country music. Her mother is “Mother” Maybelle Carter, given her nickname for being the mother of her performing daughters, and arguably the mother of country music. June began performing at the age of ten in 1939 as part of the landmark country outfit The Carter Family. It was through their mutual love of country music that she would eventually meet and fall in love with Johnny Cash, and the two went on to be one of country music’s powerhouse couples. June Carter was a muti-instrumentalist with a classic voice, and defines the nexus between country music’s primitive, classic, and modern eras.


Rosanne Cash

rosanne-cashIt can be easy to overlook just what kind of impact Rosanne Cash has had on American music over the years. She seems to always be overshadowed by her father, by other famous sons and daughters of country legends, measured against them, and dogged by preceding labels that don’t always allow her to be judged on her own merit, while her musical accomplishments veer towards being somewhat misunderstood because she’s not always been nestled smack dab in the country realm as people want, expect, or anticipate.

But Rosanne’s critical and commercial accomplishments are far more than complimentary, they define a very successful career: Eleven #1 country singles, twenty-one Top 40 singles, and thirteen Grammy nominations is nothing to sniff at, and ultimately might at least get her mentions as a potential Hall of Fame inductee.


john-carter-cash-001John Carter Cash

The only offspring between the country music super marriage of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John Carter Cash has spent his time as a singer and performer, but many of his important contributions to country music have come behind-the-scenes as a producer, songwriter, author, and general champion of the Cash estate and all things country music. It’s remarkable how many places you see John Carter’s name attached to projects as his puts effort out to make music happen in whatever capacity he can help in. Like his father, he has that selfless streak of service that surfaces in some of the most generous and cool ways.


Bobby Bare Jr.

Born in Nashville, TN to the original Outlaw Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr. grew up next door to Tammy Wynette and George Jones in Hendersonville, and was nominated for a Grammy next to his father for the Shel Silverstein-written song “Daddy What If” from his father’s tribute album to Silverstein. Fronting roots rock bands like “Bare Jr.” and “Young Criminals Starvation League”, Bare’s career has been the result of avoiding “working a real job at any cost,” despite earning a psychology degree from the University of Tenessee, and not really getting deep into his own music until later in life. His high energy on stage and dark sarcasm in his songs have won him fans worldwide.


Other Famous Sons & Daughters:

Pam Tillis – 1994 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, and daughter of country great Mel Tillis

The Carter Family Daughters – Carlene Carter, Helen Carter, Anita Carter, Rosie Nix Adams.

Jett Williams – Daughter of Hank Williams that found out about her famous father later in life. Jett has been a performer and plays an important role as one of the executors of the Hank Williams estate.

Jesse Keith Whitley – Son of Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley

Marty Haggard, Noel Haggard, and Scott Haggard- More performing sons of Merle.

Dean Miller – Son of Roger Miller

Lilly Hiatt – Daughter of John Hiatt

Chelsea Crowell – Daughter of Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell

Paula Nelson – Leader of The Paul Nelson Band.

Tyler Mahan Coe – Guitar player and writer who spent years touring in his father’s band.

Folk Uke – Made up Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy, and Arlo Guthrie’s daughter Cathy.

Whey Jennings – The son of Terry Jennings, and grandson of Waylon Jennings.

Lucas Hubbard – Son of Ray Wylie Hubbard who often plays lead guitar with his father.

Lucky Tubb – Not technically a son or daughter, but a great nephew of Ernest.

Bluegrass – There are many performing sons and daughters of famous bluegrass musicians, but for fear of forgetting some and getting yelled at for it, this sentence is in dedication to them all. You rock! Or pick, or strum, or pluck! Go YOU!

Mar
29

LL Cool J to Host ACM’s Special Tribute to the Troops

March 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  31 Comments

ll-cool-jDon’t call it a comeback! LL Cool J’s been here for … well …. he’s never really been here in country music whatsoever, except for that ill-advised pairing with Brad Paisley in “Accidental Racist” that captured the American zeitgeist for about 48 hours—catching hell from Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert in parodies—before being summarily forgotten and heavily suppressed in the public consciousness like the jarring memory of a childhood tragedy. But he’s back now! … to host this year’s ACM special slated to pander to country music demographics to promote CBS’s Fall lineup …. I mean salute America’s military.

LL Cool J, along with CBS’s NCIS: Los Angeles co-star Chris O’Donnell, are scheduled to host the April 7th “ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops” that will be taped the day after the ACM Awards, and be aired on May 20th. Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, George Strait, Merle Haggard, Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum are all scheduled to perform.

The rapper turned actor has also been the host of the Grammy Awards in previous years, and has done a fine job in his emcee duties. But the question is, was there not a country music personality that would be better suited for this special? With all the talk swirling around the ACM Awards and their desire to showcase as much talent as possible for the labels backing their enterprise, why not show off the comedy stylings of some country star that could use a lift out of the shadows, or at least that would be better suited for the event? Is Bubba in Birmingham really going to become an NCIS: Los Angeles lifer just because he saw LL Cool J introduce Tim McGraw before he performs some schlocky tribute? Do rap shows reach out to country stars to showcase them at their award shows or televised specials? Why does country music always feel the need to apologize for itself by rubbing elbows with stars of other genres to say, “Hey, we can be cool too!” instead of presenting what is cool about country itself?

It’s great that the Academy of Country Music has decided to shy away from shamelessly promoting Lionel Richie albums like they did some years back, and actually pay tribute to something that deserves it. (By the way, what rock has Lionel been hiding under recently? Yeah, that was a two-hour television investment poorly spent.) But is the point to promote country and support the troops, or try to hand out political payoffs to media partners?

Mar
25

Album Review – Johnny Cash’s “Out Among The Stars”

March 25, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  19 Comments

johnny-cash-out-among-the-stars

I’m not certain that the impact of Johnny Cash getting dropped from the CBS/Columbia record label that had been his home for nearly 30 years has ever been fully appreciated. It truly was the end of an era, or the beginning of one depending on how you want to look at it. It stimulated a young Marty Stuart (an understudy of Cash) to get int the face of  Columbia executive, resulting in him eventually being ejected from the label. It made Merle Haggard tell Rick Blackburn, the man responsible for Cash’s firing, “You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.” And it also meant that an entire, cohesive album from one of the most well-respected artists in the history of American music went unheard for 30 years after its original recording. This is the type of peril American music is put through at the hands of suits, that such a ridiculous, unintuitive aberration could transpire in the custody of one person’s art, especially the art of Johnny Cash.

Out Among The Stars is a difficult album to critique. Since it was originally crafted to be heard by the public some 30 years ago, with stylings and sensibilities more steeped in the country modes of that time, it’s hard to know how to calibrate your ear to this music. Compounding this problem is the information that some, or all of the tracks have been “fortified” by a team that included Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and others to be more akin to what a modern ear might expect. Then you pile on top of all of that the fact that some of these songs like “She Used To Love Me A Lot” and “Out Among The Stars” have already wormed themselves into our brains with versions from other artists. It would not be fair to call Cash’s versions “cover” songs because of the way the timeline sits. They are simply Cash’s takes of contemporary tunes that were never heard because of the nature of this project. Nonetheless you can’t help but compare these “new” versions to the ones you’re more familiar with.

While you’re listening to Out Among The Stars, you almost feel like Marty McFly contemplating the strange space-time continuum this project puts you in, asking yourself, “Would the 1984 me like this? And do I like it now?” The mid 80′s was its own strange time in country music as well. Just listen to the introduction to Willie Nelson’s version of “Pancho & Lefty”. Johnny Cash amidst his recovery from drug addiction wasn’t the only one trying to find his compass; the entire genre of country was. The original Out Among The Stars sessions were produced by Billy Sherrill of all people—a producer known as one of the masterminds of the countrypolitan or Nashville Sound. As strange as it was for him to be working with Johnny Cash, at the same time he was working with wildman David Allan Coe, trying to revitalize Coe’s career as well. Billy Sherrill—one of the principles the Outlaws had risen up against—was now one of their brothers in arms. A strange time in country indeed.

johnny-cash-out-among-the-starsThen you take the emotional quotient of simply being able to hear the legendary voice of Johnny Cash again in completely unheard, studio-quality content, and it’s hard to hold onto any and all objectivity. Even if Out Among The Stars was a verbatim recitation of the Nashville Metropolitan phone book circa 1984, this album is a gift from beyond that any sane country music fan would dare not stare too long in the mouth.

The reason that Out Among The Stars became “lost,” and Johnny Cash got dropped from Columbia is because nobody knew what to do with him, including Johnny himself. In some respects, the song material on this album is somewhat indicative of this searching for direction. It is sort of the take of two Johnnys—one introspective, dark, and even disturbed at times, and the other the more “aw-shucks” Arkansas boy. Musically, whether the fault of Sherill or the super-team assembled to deal with the recordings in the present day, is where Out Among The Stars shows cohesion and confidence. Though some of the songs might be more fit for the 80′s country listener, the music throughout is timeless.

The somewhat cornpone and timecasted song “If I Told You Who It Was” is where the album most shows off it’s 80′s stripes, but Cash’s versions of “Out Among The Stars” and “She Used To Love Me A Lot”, the melancholic “Call Your Mother,” to the downright sadistic “I Drove Her Out Of My Mind” are right in the mode of classic Johnny Cash whose willing to delve deep into the darker side of life. These are balanced by the sweet and simple approach of songs like “Tennessee” that expires in an uplifting chorus signature to Billy Sherrill’s touch, and the sweet duets with June Carter “Don’t You Think It’s Come” and “Baby Ride Easy”. The organ/piano combination, combined with the fairly sappy lyrics of “After All” might make it the album’s most forgettable track, while “Rock & Roll Shoes” and the cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” with Waylon Jennings check in as the album’s most fun tunes.

Johnny Cash left music, and left the world behind at the top of his game, having been revitalized and resurrected in the public consciousness as the result of his American Recordings era, leaving the crowd wanting more as all great entertainers do. Though Out Among The Stars may not reach the high critical acclaim Cash set for himself in the last era of his career, it is a more than worthy offering allowing the Man in Black to once again live among us in our hearts and imaginations, leaving the listener ruminating on the historic accomplishments of a man whose musical accomplishments will never be equaled.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from Out Among The Stars

Mar
21

New Merle Haggard Tribute is a Head Scratcher

March 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  103 Comments

merle-haggard-001A new Merle Haggard tribute? Yes!

…that includes Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Thompson Square? Ugh…

Not since the second installment of the Waylon – The Music Inside series was released with the names of Colt Ford and Justin Moore making their way on the track list have we had such a quizzical collection of artists for a tribute album. As cool as it is to see any attention paid to Merle these days from the mainstream establishment, and to see Merle’s much-deserving song Ben Haggard make the cut of contributors, hearing Luke Bryan covering “Pancho & Lefty” (and is that really a Merle song anyway?) or Dustin Lynch taking time from singing about tractor sex to offer his take on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is not what’s going to get your average Merle fan’s motor running.

The Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard compilation out April 1st (no fooling) is being put together by Broken Bow Records, and of course, just like many of these tributes recently, it’s mostly a showcase of label talent with a “tribute” as the backdrop. Jason Aldean, Kristy Lee Cook, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Randy Houser, Parmalee, and Thompson Square all reside on Broken Bow and bow in on the track list, most with two contributions.

working-mans-poet-tribute-to-merle-haggardAnd if you were hoping that maybe they would approach this thing with the Merle spirit, just listen to what Luke Bryan has to say about his very “Mumford & Sons” take on “Pancho & Lefty”: “The original had a Spanish-Mexican flair. We took a real different approach with it …. something with some edge that moves along pretty good. It’s an interesting take.”

Something else interesting: They begged Garth Brooks to allow them to use his cover of “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” from his recent blockbuster Blame It All On My Roots box set. But just like the box set, you can only get the song if you buy the tribute from Wal-Mart.

Complicating the love-hate relationship a true Merle fan might have with this compilation, the ACM Awards being held April 6th are planning to bestow Merle Haggard with a Crystal Milestone Award as part of the ACM festivities, with this tribute as the centerpiece. Once again, it’s great to see the ACM’s or anyone in the mainstream acknowledge Merle (even if it’s half a decade after Taylor Swift was given the same Crystal Milestone Award), but you wonder how much of this is just a platform for Broken Bow to display their own talent.

Luckily if you’re looking for Merle Haggard tributes with not as many question marks swirling around them, there’s been a few of great ones released recently. Suzy Bogguss released Lucky last month: a 12-song tribute to The Hag. And Vince Gill with Paul Franklin paid tribute to Merle & Buck Owens last year with Bakersfield.

Track list for Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard:

  1. Misery and Gin, Randy Houser
  2. Footlights, Joe Nichols
  3. Going Where the Lonely Go, Jason Aldean
  4. Today I Started Loving You Again, Kristy Lee Cook
  5. Carolyn, Toby Keith
  6. Pancho and Lefty, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley
  7. Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, Garth Brooks (Walmart edition only)
  8. You Take Me for Granted, Thompson Square
  9. Mama Tried, Ben Haggard
  10. That’s the Way Love Goes, Dustin Lynch
  11. Make Up and Faded Blue Jeans, Jake Owen
  12. I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, James Wesley
  13. Workin’ Man Blues, Parmalee
  14. Are the Good Times Really Over, Jason Aldean
  15. Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room, Thompson Square
  16. I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink, Dustin Lynch
  17. The Fightin’ Side of Me, James Wesley
  18. My Favorite Memory, Joe Nichols
  19. Ramblin’ Fever, Randy Houser
  20. Sing Me Back Home, Ben Haggard

 

Mar
19

Don Williams’ “Reflections” Reminds Us of What’s Important

March 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  27 Comments

don-williams

We hear it all the time. It pursues us throughout our daily lives. It seems to be one of the eternal lessons of life. Yet no matter how much we all believe in the message and take it into our hearts, it is amazing how easily we stray from taking time, slowing down, and appreciating the important things in life and living in the moment. Because no matter how much you tell yourself how paramount this is, there’s an endless world of priorities and distractions awaiting you on your phone, on your computer, and on your television. You can preach the virtues of slowing down all you want, but the best way to drive the message home is by example, and this is what the wise-minded, and golden-throated guru of classic country music Don Williams does on his new album Reflections.

The message wouldn’t have so much meaning behind it if it wasn’t so obvious Don Williams practices what he preaches. He had his day of moving and shaking in the music business (5 CMA Male Vocalist Trophies & seventeen #1′s to be exact), and when it was obvious that the industry had put him out to pasture, he didn’t shake his fists in anger or reconfigure his image to appeal to the younger generation. He was appreciative of the time he spent in the spotlight, and stepped back to rest on his laurels and re-evaluate his priorities. Even now that he’s re-ignited his career of sorts by releasing two albums in the last three years, it seems like he’s doing it only as a dabbler; to get the devil out of him so to speak, so that music doesn’t pursue him in his mind as he tries to relax and revel in his golden years.

don-williams-reflectionsThis is the attitude and approach that Reflections is recorded with—slow and easy—like Don told his wife, “I’ll be back for supper,” and then went out for an afternoon to cut an album of songs that he believes in and lives by every day. Then as producers, engineers, and label people labored to get this record ready for release, it was the farthest thing from Don’s mind as he takes a late breakfast and heads out fishing.

Where Reflections outdoes his 2012 album And So It Goes is in the song selection. Don Williams can sing anything and make it gold, and one of his greatest assets is being able to sing a song that performed by any other artist would come across as sappy, and make it somewhat cool and more universally appealing. But there’s a little bit of swagger, a little bit of grit in some the songs of Reflections, not necessarily in the words, but just in the attitude. Selecting a song from Townes Van Zandt in “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”, and from Merle Haggard in “Sing Me Back Home” which refers to Merle’s stint in prison, gives this album some gravel, despite the otherwise smooth and subdued approach of the music. Yet these two famous covers still sit well within the theme of the album of appreciating the small things in life.

Reflections is much more than just the easy listening country it may appear to be on the surface. It’s an album with a message, and leads by example. Instead of whining about the state of country music, it does something about it.

The laid back, gentle-of-mind ease drips from this album like the sweetness of sun-drenched dew. Sometimes it’s simply implied, and other times it’s directly spoken, like in the appreciative and well-written “Working Man’s Son” or the song that ties the entire theme of Reflections together, “Back To The Simple Things.” Enough can’t be said either about the Townes cover “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”. Like when Willie and Merle took “Pancho & Lefty” to another level, Don Williams’ touch on this song immortalized it, and in a different time it would have been a super hit.

Reflections is the album we needed right here, right now. Not just from the perspective of saving country music, but the perspective of saving ourselves from the overwhelming onslaught of ensnaring technologies that rob the preciousness from life.

Two guns up.

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Purchase Reflections from Sugar Hill Records

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon

Feb
15

10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments

February 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  35 Comments

marty-stuartWhen it comes to the preservation of the history and sound of country music, you can make the case there is nobody who does it better and with more passion and dedication than Marty Stuart. Tireless and true to his convictions, from his music, to his archive of memorabilia, to his presence on television and the Grand Ole Opry stage, and to some of the thankless things he does well out of the public eye, Marty Stuart embodies everything behind the idea of Saving Country Music, and is a badass of the genre if there ever was one.

 


1. Paying His Dues with Johnny Cash & Lester Flatt

marty-stuart-johnny-cashUnlike many of the country music prima donnas who’ve set up shop in country music recently, Marty Stuart comes from the school that believes you have to pay your dues in country music before it’s your turn in the spotlight. Marty Stuart started playing professionally as a sideman in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band in the early 70′s at the tender age of 14 under the tutelage of legendary mandolin player Roland White. Marty stayed with the band until 1978 when it split up because of Lester’s failing health.

After spending a couple of years working with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson, Marty joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1980, and stayed there for half a decade as both a sideman and a studio musician. Stuart also married Cash’s daughter Cindy in 1983. The two divorced five years later after Marty left Cash’s band to pursue a solo career.


2. Keeping One of the Biggest Archives of Country Music Memorabilia

Marty’s vast collection of country music memorabilia is one of the biggest in country music. It has been featured at the Tennessee State Museum, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and pieces are regularly loaned to the Country Music Hall of Fame for exhibits.

I went to the first Hard Rock and I saw The Beatles, The Stones, Otis Redding, The Who, all their stuff on the wall. And in my mind I went, ‘Well that’s just as important if it’s Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams, George Jones, and who on.’ And so when I came back to America, I made it a mission. I mean it became my whole focus at that time. Get a record deal, start a band, make them look cool, and get all of the country music artifacts you possibly can and preserve them, lock them down, because they’re getting away fast.

“Everything was changing in country music. The look of it, the sound of it, and this stuff was just a throwaway…The ultimate mission is not just to preserve this stuff, protect it, promote it, save it, but to get the music into the hands and hearts of young people that are coming through and [saying), “Well I want to do that, but they tell me I have to be like so and so.” But we’ve already got one of those. Be who you are, at any cost.” (read full story)


3. Inviting Cool Artists Onto The Grand Ole Opry

Playing the Grand Ole Opry stage is one of the biggest thrills and highest honors any artist within the country music realm can be bestowed, but it is not an easy one achieve. One way to grace the stage is to be invited up by a standing member to play during their set, and that is how young, up-and-coming stars like Sturgill Simpson, to one of the oldest living country stars still around, the 90-year-old Don Juan Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose both made their first appearances on the hallowed stage of the storied institution. Marty was also the man who officially invited Old Crow Medicine Show recently to become The Opry’s newest members; the first traditional -leaning band to be invited in the last half decade.


4. Hummingbyrd & The Clarence White Guitar

As explained above, Marty Stuart has many pieces of country music memorabilia, but none of them may be as prized as his guitar affectionately called Hummingbyrd. The 1965 Fender Telecaster was originally owned by famous guitarist Clarence White—a studio musician, member of The Kentucky Colonels, and most-famously, the guitarist for The Byrds (hence the “Y” in the name).

Hummingbyrd is no ordinary guitar. It was the original prototype for what is know as a “B-Bender” guitar—a custom job invented by Clarence White and Byrd drummer Gene Parsons, who happened to also be a machinist. The point of the custom job is to be able to mimic the moaning sounds of a steel guitar by bending the B-string up a whole tone through a series of levers activated by pushing on the guitar’s neck, body, or bridge. When Clarence White passed away, his wife sold the legendary guitar to Marty Stuart, who uses it as his primary instrument.

Included on Marty’s 2010 album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions is a instrumental called “Hummingbyrd” where Marty Stuart puts on a clinic on how to use this unique instrument. The song went onto win the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Hummingbyrd shows both Marty Stuart’s passion for the preservation of country music’s history, and his prowess as a guitar player matched by few in the genre.


5. Standing Up To CBS / Columbia For Dropping Johnny Cash

A running theme in these 10 Badass Moments has been the firing of Johnny Cash from CBS Records in 1985. Merle Haggard mouthed off to CBS Executive Rick Blackburn about the firing, saying, “You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”

When Marty Stuart left Johnny Cash’s band, he signed to Columbia (previously CBS), and in 1988 recorded his second album for the label called Let There Be Country. However Columbia refused to release it. Though some have surmised it was because Marty’s first self-titled Columbia album didn’t sell well, in James L. Dickerson’s 2005 book Mojo Triangle, he explains Columbia didn’t release the album because Marty Stuart had a heated exchange with a Columbia record executive about the Johnny Cash firing. Columbia shelved the album in retribution, and Marty eventually left the label without recording another album for them. Marty then signed to MCA where he had his greatest commercial success, and amidst this success, Columbia decided to finally release Let There Be Country in August of 1992.


6. Hosting The Marty Stuart Show

marty-stuart-showPatterning itself around the classic country music variety shows of the past like The Porter Wagoner Show, Flatt & Scruggs, and Hee Haw, The Marty Stuart Show is one of the last bastions for true, classic country music on television. Carried by RFD-TV, this weekly show features Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives, his wife Connie Smith, and just about the coolest variety of country music artists you can see on TV—artists from the new generation like Justin Townes Earle, Brandy Clark, Sturgill Simpson, Hank3, and The Quebe Sisters, to older artists like Don Maddox, Del McCoury, and Stonewall Jackson, and to artists in between like Jim Lauderdale, and Corb Lund. If they’re good, they appear on The Marty Stuart Show, and after five seasons, it has become its own country music institution, and an important distinction for the artists invited to play the show.


7. Playing with Lester Flatt on the Porter Wagoner Show at 14

Are you kidding me? That’s Marty Stuart folks, playing mandolin and singing!


8. Releasing Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota

badlands-ballads-of-the-lakotaSimilar to his mentor and hero Johnny Cash who released what was arguably the first country music concept album with his tribute to the American Indian called Bitter Tears in 1964, Marty Stuart released a concept album also in tribute to the American Indian called Badlands: Ballads of the Laokota in 2005. Recorded with his backing band The Fabulous Superlatives, it focused on the struggle of Native Americans, and was entirely written by Stuart except for one song, “Big Foot,” written by Johnny Cash. It was also recorded at the Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, TN, with John Carter Cash as co-producer.

But this album wasn’t just Marty patterning himself after Johnny Cash. Stuart has spent much time in the Dakotas learning about the Lakota Sioux, including studying at the Oglala Lakota College. For Marty, the poor treatment of Native Americans is a very real issue.


9. Marrying Connie Smith

marty-stuart-wife-connieWhy would a handsome young Marty Stuart marry a woman 16 years his senior? Well first off, have you seen Connie Smith? Aside from how good time and country music has been to her, she is bona-fide country music royalty and one of the most familiar faces of the Grand Ole Opry. But this isn’t some celebrity sham marriage, the matrimony speaks to Marty’s undying appeal for all things country music and the love between the two country stars is deep. Together, they’re a classic country dynamic duo that is hard to stop (and I have my suspicion at night they dress up as superheroes and do battle with Music Row’s most evil villains).


10. This Quote:

“Today the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee, is play country music.” –Marty Stuart

 


Feb
7

10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments

February 7, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  64 Comments

merle-haggard-001Merle. The Hag. Of all the country music greats, Merle’s story might be the most symbolic of the American experience: from growing up in California as the son of Okie parents during The Depression, to spending time in prison, to becoming a rags to riches story. His legacy is sometimes overshadowed by his peers like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, whose influence has spread much farther than country’s borders. But when it comes to influencing country music itself, few this side of Hank Williams can say they’ve left a bigger footprint.

Here’s 10 moments that make Merle Haggard one of country music’s most preeminent badasses.

 


1. Being Born In A Boxcar

Merle's converted boxcar home. bakersfieldcalifornian-com

Merle’s boxcar home after his father slowly converted it into a house. bakersfieldcalifornian.com

Now if that ain’t country….

James Francis and Flossie Mae Haggard moved from Oklahoma during The Depression after their barn burned down in 1934, and settled in an apartment in Bakersfield with Merle’s two older siblings Lowell and Lillian. Merle’s father got a job working for the Santa Fe Railroad as a carpenter, and soon went to work converting a boxcar parked on a piece of land in Oildale, CA, just outside of Bakersfield that eventually became the family’s homestead. Merle Haggard was born in that boxcar on April 6, 1937. The Haggard’s eventually purchased the land around the boxcar, and expanded it to include two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a breakfast nook.


2. Telling Off A CBS Records Executive for Firing Johnny Cash

merle-haggard-kern-riverIn 1985 Merle released the song “Kern River” and it reached #10 on the country charts. But if it was up to CBS Records executive Rick Blackburn, the song would have never been recorded at all. Blackburn hated the song, and apparently went out of his way to tell Merle as much at every opportunity he had. Then at some point, Merle had enough. Blackburn mouthed off to Merle about it, and Merle lost it.

“That’s about the third time you’ve told me that.” Haggard said, “It’s more like five times. Well, I’m about five times short of telling you to go to hell.”

Then Haggard continued:

“Who do you think you are? You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”


3. Watching Johnny Cash Play at San Quentin Prison

Johnny Cash’s most famous prison appearances were in 1968 and 1969 at the Folsom State Prison and San Quentin Prison, but these concerts weren’t the first time Johnny Cash played at a correctional institution. His first ever was New Years Day 1958 at San Quentin in California, and a 20-year-old Merle Haggard was in the audience. After a few other run-ins with the law, being arrested for the first time at age 11,  and after having participated in multiple of jailbreaks (see below), Merle Haggard got sentenced to 15 years for burglary in 1957 to the notorious California lockup. He was just 18.

Merle ended up only serving two years of his sentence though, in part because the Johnny Cash concert changed his life. At the time, Haggard was conspiring with his cell mate “Rabbit” on an escape plan, but Merle’s fellow cell mates convinced him he had a brighter future in country music. Rabbit eventually did escape, killed a cop, and ending back at San Quentin on Death Row.

“He had the right attitude,” Merle recalls of Johnny Cash;s appearance. “He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards—he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”


4. Escaping From Jail 17 Times

That’s right. As impossible as that sounds, this is what Merle Haggard claims. His criminal record over the years has been a source of much debate about just how hardened the young Merle was. More than likely most of his crimes were quite petty hooliganism stuff, and were bred out of growing up and not having a father to keep him in line, and not having any money and resorting to stealing for his daily bread. But apparently he became pretty adept at giving the local jailers the slip, and that’s why he eventually ended up at San Quentin.

“I was scared to death,” Merle recalls. “I was just 19 at the time, and I’d already been in a lot of jails. San Quentin is the last place you go. I wasn’t really that bad a guy. They just couldn’t hold me anywhere else. I escaped 17 different times, so they sent me there because I was an escape risk. When I walked out on the grounds of San Quentin, I was scared. I was there two years and nine months.”


5. Recording Tribute Albums to Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills

merle-haggard-same-trail-different-time-jimmie-rodgersIt’s one thing to record a tribute album to one of the greats of country music’s past. It’s another to do it at the height of your professional career when your talent and attention could be more financially lucrative elsewhere.

After landing his first #1 hits “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Branded Man,” and before releasing his big 1969 hits “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Okie From Muskogee,” Merle Haggard released the 1969 LP Same Train, A Different Time: A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers — a massive, two-record tome of 25 Jimmie Rodgers songs recorded to critical acclaim. The project took a total of 6 months to complete and is given credit for a revitalization of interest in the Singing Brakeman’s career.

Same could be said for Bob Wills, when Merle made time to record and release A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World the very next year. Even more cool, Merle rustled up the last 6 remaining members of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys—Johnny Gimble, Alex Brashear, Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, and Joe Holley—to participate in the record along with Haggard’s backing band The Strangers.


6. Kicking Cancer’s Ass

Merle Haggard was diagnosed with lung Cancer in May of 2008. Not wanting to make a big deal or publicity stunt out of the matter, he kept it hush hush. On November 3rd, 2008, Haggard had surgery to remove part of the upper lobe of his right lung that had a lemon-sized tumor growing on it. Five days later, he finally spilled the beans to the public about his diagnosis and treatment. Merle had been a smoker early in his life, and had quit cigarettes in 1991, and marijuana in 1995. But doctors said smoking had nothing to do with Merle’s condition.

How did Haggard pull through? Less than two months later he was playing shows at The Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. “I feel like I’ve extended my life,” Merle said at the time. “I’m in better shape than when I went in.”


7. The “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” Protest Song

Merle Haggard has written and recorded many politically-charged songs over his career spanning both sides of the isle. From his conservative-leaning anthems like “Fighting Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee” (though he’s said this song was written to be a somewhat humorous portrait), to the more recent anti-war song “America First.” But “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” might be his crowning, politically-charged moment.

Incensed by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow flag burning under the First Amendment, Merle penned this controversial tune in 1989 and tried to release it, but his label CBS Records refused. So Merle, determined to have the song see the light of day, bought himself out of the stipulations of his CBS contract simply so he could release the song. And just so nobody was confused of where Merle’s heart was in the matter, he gave all the proceeds from the song to the Disabled Veterans of America.


8. Recording Pancho & Lefty with Willie Nelson 

Merle Haggard isn’t known especially for being a legendary duet partner, but when he paired up with Willie Nelson in 1983 to record Pancho & Lefty whose title track is the famous Townes Van Zandt song, a strange magic ensued. The song “Pancho & Lefty” went straight to #1, and so did the album. It also launched another Top 10 hit, “Reasons to Quit,” written by Haggard. Willie & Merle went on to be named the Vocal Duo of the Year by the CMA in 1983.


9. Helping to Define The Bakersfield Sound

As the bean counters on Music Row out in Nashville decided that for country music to survive, strings and choirs needed to be added, and that they needed to “refine” the sound of this rural art form to appeal to older audiences, the country music rebels out in California said “screw that” and we’re slinging their telecasters around, playing way too loud, and pushing boundaries. Right beside Buck Owens at the forefront of this movement was Merle Haggard with his hard-driving, hard-edged sound, embellished by Ralph Mooney’s blaring steel guitar.

Not only did The Bakersfield Sound keep Nashville’s “Countrypolitan” in check, it also showed many of Bakersfield’s rock and roll neighbors in places like LA and San Francisco that country music could be cool, and next thing you know you have bands like The Byrds and The Grateful Dead cutting country records.


10. Recording 38 #1 Hits… 38 OF THEM!!!

  1. “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” (1966)
  2. “Branded Man” (1967)
  3. “Sing Me Back Home” (1968)
  4. “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” (1968)
  5. “Mama Tried” (1968)
  6. “Hungry Eyes” (1969)
  7. “Workin’ Man Blues” (1969)
  8. “Okie from Muskogee” (1969)
  9. “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (1970)
  10. “Daddy Frank” (1971)
  11. “Carolyn” (1971)
  12. “Grandma Harp” (1972)
  13. “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” (1972)
  14. “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me” (1972)
  15. “Everybody’s Had the Blues” (1973)
  16. “If We Make It Through December” (1973)
  17. “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore” (1974)
  18. “Old Man from the Mountain” (1974)
  19. “Kentucky Gambler” (1974)
  20. “Always Wanting You” (1975)
  21. “Movin’ On” (1975)
  22. “It’s All in the Movies” (1975)
  23. “The Roots of My Raising” (1975)
  24. “Cherokee Maiden” (1976)
  25. “Bar Room Buddies” (with Clint Eastwood) (1980)
  26. “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” (1980)
  27. “My Favorite Memory” (1981)
  28. “Big City” (1981)
  29. “Yesterday’s Wine” (with George Jones) (1982)
  30. “Going Where the Lonely Go” (1982)
  31. “You Take Me for Granted” (1982)
  32. “Pancho and Lefty” (with Willie Nelson) (1983)
  33. “That’s the Way Love Goes” (1983)
  34. “Someday When Things Are Good” (1984)
  35. “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room” (1984)
  36. “A Place to Fall Apart” (with Janie Frickie) (1984)
  37. “Natural High” (1985)
  38. “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star” (1987)

Jan
29

Artist To Watch Mary Sarah Duets with Ray Price

January 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  18 Comments

mary-sarah-bridges“Artist to watch” is an often-used term that may or may not be a good fit for certain performers, especially young ones that still have so many decisions to make about their lives and careers, and have so many determinations to be made about their talent, drive, influences, and style. But when it comes to the 18-year-old singer-songwriter Mary Sarah, “artist-to-watch” might not be a strong enough designation to speak to the potential of this artist.

Born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas, and set on a path from a very young age to become a performer, Mary Sarah spent her adolescence traveling around in showcases for young, potential music stars, and signed to Los Angeles-based talent agencies. From the beginning, Mary Sarah has been groomed for the big time, and you can tell there is money and muscle behind this girl; in fact maybe a little too much money and muscle, where you wonder where the carefully-crafted image and marketing end, and the singing-songwriting 18-year-old girl begin.

Mary Sarah seems to be following the Taylor Swift career path in some respects. If you poke around YouTube and such, you can find a young Mary Sarah singing cover songs from Taylor Swift and other country pop and pop stars. At 14, she released her first album Crazy Good that resides very much in the young singer-songwriter country pop realm. She’s recently been spending a lot of time touring radio stations, which is also a sign of an artist wanting to take the direct, industry route to a country music career.

mary-sarah-ray-priceBut this doesn’t tell the whole story of young Mary Sarah. She professes a deep love for traditional country music, and began performing on the local Opry circuit around Houston as she grew older, meeting the Oak Ridge Boys who saw a YouTube video of her singing and invited her on stage at the Galveston’s Grand Opera House in January of 2012. This led to Mary Sarah and her mother eventually moving from Texas to Nashville to work on a very interesting recording project from which a duet with the recently-passed Ray Price was released in tribute to the Country Music Hall of Famer.

Recorded at The Sound Kitchen in Franklin, TN with producer Kent Wells, the unreleased Mary Sarah legends album called Bridges matches up the young singer with an unbelievable roster of legacy country talent recording classic country songs, and not just the obvious names like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson that appear on the album, but even artists like Lynn Anderson and Freddy Powers, not to mention Merle Haggard, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker, Vince Gill, Ronnie Milsap, Big Kenny, John Rich, and of course, Ray Price. Even more astounding is that Mary Sarah’s executive producer and mentor is Freddy Powers—the songwriting / guitar-playing powerhouse who has penned so many hits for Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson just to name a few. Mary Sarah is not just some industry ingénue, she has some of the best living representatives of traditional country music behind her.

One of the remarkable things about Ray Price is that right up to his passing, his voice was as boisterous and warm as ever, and when you cue up this “Heartaches By The Number” duet with Mary Sarah, you hear Ray Price come alive again with such clarity, with such body to his legendary, vibrato tone, it’s enough to raise hairs and overwhelm. But not to be outdone, Mary Sarah delivers a flawless performance herself that that rises to the level of complimenting Ray Price on this remarkable remake. The production and arrangement breathes new life into the track, while honoring the song’s classic lineage.

Mary Sarah could break either way at this point. She could become like an Amber Digby type and be a traditional country singer from Texas who has a solid, dedicated, sustainable, but smallish following, or she could become the next Taylor Swift. Or, even better, she could potentially bridge these two worlds with her Bridges album, and take traditional country music to a popularity level it hasn’t enjoyed in recent memory.

ray-price-mary-sarah-studio-2The reason teenagers and young adults love young pop country stars like Taylor Swift is because they can relate to them. Mary Sarah is an awfully beautiful young woman with all the stage presence, charm, and media savvy a young star needs to reach the very top of the music industry. In fact in some respects it’s all almost so perfect you tend to want to throw some dirt on it, and some may be untrusting of what they’re seeing and hearing because it’s so refined and flawless.

But as for the “Heartaches By The Number” duet, you can’t get much better, and that is coming from one that doesn’t like many remakes or cover songs. And to know there’s an entire album of similar material out there just makes you hungry for more. Mary Sarah’s Bridges album was initially slated for release in the Spring of 2013, and then the summer of 2013, but has yet to surface. It may be the fault of some Music Row bean counters sitting on their hands, or it could be Mary’s team is waiting for the exact right time and opportunity. Some chatter now has the album coming in the spring of 2014. But if Mary Sarah’s duet with Ray Price is any indication, this will be a release well worth the wait, and so will be the arrival of Mary Sarah on the national stage.

Two guns up.

Jan
28

Willie, Kris, & Merle Working on Musketeers Album

January 28, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  15 Comments

willie-nelson-kris-kristofferson-merle-haggardAt the 56th Annual Grammy Awards Sunday night, country legends Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard performed a medley of songs together along with Blake Shelton, with the occasion being Kris Kristofferson receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award and having his first self-titled album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. But this grouping wasn’t accidental, or an augmented version of the supergroup The Highwaymen that Willie and Kris were once a part of with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.

A long-planned, and even longer-rumored album and grouping of Willie, Merle, and Kris called “The Musketeers” has been in the works for years. Saving Country Music first reported on the potential supergroup in January of 2011 when the three men were assembled as part of Merle Haggard’s recognition by the Kennedy Center Honors. Haggard told Rolling Stone at the time:

We got to eat a little something together. We didn’t know what the hell this food was, but we thought it was funny. We (Merle and Willie) talked about doing that together, but with the presence of Kris, we talked about the three of us doing it. I’m sure if we’re healthy and live to do it, we’ll do it. We thought about the title: the Musketeers. You know, because there’s the three of us. We’ll come up with some little way of describing ourselves I guess and put it together into a show.

“The Musketeers” might just be a placeholder for the eventual name, but apparently the three Country Music Hall of Famers are still serious about the idea, and are working on music. When asked by Billboard before The Grammy Awards if a collaboration between the three men could be in the offing, Willie Nelson responded, “We’re working on one now.” When asked when fans could expect something, and if it could be this year, Willie responded, “As soon as we get it together. Could be.”

Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson have toured together in an acoustic show numerous times since 2009, and Willie Nelson worked with Merle Haggard in 2007 on the album Last of The Breed. Willie and Merle also collaborated on the Townes Van Zandt classic “Pancho & Lefty.”

Finally stimulating The Musketeers to go from talk to actual tracks might be the recent revelation from Kris Kristofferson that he’s beginning to experience memory issues.

Jan
26

Jason Isbell Got Screwed: A 56th Grammy Awards Preview

January 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  41 Comments

56th-grammy-awards-2014

CHECK OUT OUR GRAMMY LIVE BLOG

THE 56th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS

When: 7 PM Central, 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific on CBS.

Where: The Stapes Center, Los Angeles, CA.

Host: LL Cool J

THINGS TO WATCH FOR

More Traditional Country Than One Might Expect

• Though the Grammy Awards are all-encompassing, there will be quite a bit of country, including classic country on the night with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson scheduled to perform. Just like we saw with the CMA Awards in November, there is a renewed push to at least include something for classic country’s often-overlooked fans. There will also be a tribute to the recently-passed Phil Everly. See a complete list of the country performances below.

Kacey Musgraves To Push Boundariesagain.

• Similar to the CMA Awards, Kacey Musgraves will be performing her song “Follow Your Arrow.” At the CMA’s, the line “roll up a joint” was censored by ABC. We’ll see if CBS follows suit. She is also up for Best Country Album, Best Country Song for “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the all-genre Best New Artist. With her status as a critic’s favorite, and the propensity for the Grammy Awards to traditionally be more about artistic appeal than commercial success, Kacey should at least be considered a strong nominee, at least for the country awards. The 56th Grammy Awards could be where the Kacey Musgraves experiment sticks if she walks away with the top prizes.

THE COUNTRY PERFORMANCES

Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton will all perform a medley of songs together (which one of these things is not like the others?). The performance will begin with Willie and Kris singing the Jimmy Webb-penned song “The Highwayman.” Then all the men will sing a version of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and end with Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”

Miranda Lambert & Billie Joe Armstrong will perform a Everly Brothers tribute. Phil Everly recently passed away, and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day recently released a tribute album to the brother duo with Norah Jones. No word why Miranda is the duet partner and not Norah.

Kacey Musgraves will reportedly be performing her current single “Follow Your Arrow” that had the “roll up a joint” line censored by ABC during the CMA Awards in November.

Hunter Hayes will be performing a brand new anti-bullying single called “Invisible.”

Taylor Swift is rumored to be performing “All Too Well.”

Keith Urban will be performing with John Legend in a salute to the Beatles.

Hunter Hayes, Zac Brown, and Martina McBride will be award presenters.

See the list of the non-country performances below.

SPECIAL AWARDS

These awards have already been given out as part of The Grammy Award’s per-televised events.

Kris Kristofferson was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kris Kristofferson‘s first, self-titled album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Dolly Parton‘s song “Jolene” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

 

COUNTRY AWARD NOMINEES & PREDICTIONS

The most shocking story of this Grammy Awards season was the snub of Jason Isbell from even being nominated for the Americana Album of the Year. This is a perfect example that the Grammy community is very much on the outside looking in when it comes to country music, especially the sub-genres like Americana and bluegrass.

At the same time, The Grammy Awards have a better history of picking artists based on their artistic merit as opposed to their commercial success. Remember it was the Grammy Awards that recognized Johnny Cash’s comeback during his American Recordings years when the country music industry was still ignoring him. Similarly the Grammy Awards tend to vote more down political lines, like when they recognized The Dixie Chicks after their blackballing from country music. This all sets up well for an artist like Kacey Musgraves.

The Grammy Awards are notoriously hard to predict, but I’ll do my best.

Best Country Album

I see this as a two horse race. Though the women of country are such underdogs these days, Kacey Musgraves as the critical favorite, and Taylor Swift as the commercial favorite, have to be considered the likely winners. There’s an outside chance for Blake Shelton because of his high profile from The Voice, but he would be an upset. Aldean & McGraw have no chance. In the end I think Swift will take it, but don’t rule out Kacey.

  • Jason Aldean, Night Train
  • Tim McGraw, Two Lanes of Freedom
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park – Other Potential Winner
  • Blake Shelton, Based on a True Story…
  • Taylor Swift, Red – Winner

 

Best Country Solo Performance

Probably a race between ‘I Drive Your Truck” that won the CMA, or Darius Rucker’s version of ‘Wagon Wheel.’ Outside chance again for Blake Shelton because he’s so well-known, and there will be pressure to give him something. Understand this award is mainly for the performance, not the song. But if ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ wins, it would be a noteworthy win for songwriters Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark, and if ‘Wagon Wheel’ wins, for Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bob Dylan. Remember when Darius Rucker said he better be nominated or “Country Music’s Screwed“?

  • Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Winner 
  • Hunter Hayes, ‘I Want Crazy’
  • Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
  • Darius Rucker, ‘Wagon Wheel’ – Other potential Winner
  • Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’

 

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

The Civil Wars have been Grammy darlings in the past, and may still win despite the band dissolving last year. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton would be the sentimental vote, but they should be considered a long shot. We may see Scott Borchetta assert his power here and have ‘Highway Don’t Care’ walk away with the hardware. It is cool to see a lot of good country names in this category, including Vince Gill. This is a very hard one to pick.

  • The Civil Wars, ‘From This Valley’ – Other potential Winner
  • Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill, ‘Don’t Rush’
  • Little Big Town, ‘Your Side of the Bed’
  • Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, ‘Highway Don’t Care’ – Winner
  • Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton, ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’ – Other potential Winner

 

Best Country Song

Another wide open field. Lee Brice once again has to be thought of as a front runner, but this very well may be Kacey Musgraves’ moment. This win would arguably mean more to her than any other nominee. And remember, Kacey and Brandy Clark also win if Mama’s Broken Heart’ is ultimately selected. I don’t really see Taylor Swift or Blake Shelton having a chance with this one.

  • Taylor Swift, ‘Begin Again’
  • Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Other potential Winner 
  • Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
  • Kacey Musgraves, ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ – Winner 
  • Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’

 

All Genre Awards

  • Taylor Swift’s Red is the sole country album up for Album of the Year, and it is my pick for the winner. The other strong contender would be Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
  • Kacey Musgraves is up for Best New Artist, but it is hard to see her outlasting Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, or Ed Sheeran.

 

AMERICANA & BLUEGRASS NOMINEES

Once again the Americana genre is saddled by its very narrow perspective in nominees. And except for Sarah Jarosz, they are all older artists this year. Compare this with last year when John Fullbright, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers were all nominees. The Americana nominees really show how much the Mumford backlash took root, and how that was very much last year’s trend. Jason Isbell got completely screwed, and so did many other deserving artists.

Not going to make any predictions for these awards because they are all wide open fields. Anybody could win here. These awards will be given away before the televised portion of the awards, so check the Saving Country Music LIVE blog for winners.

***UPDATE – In the pre-televised Grammy presentation….

  • The Grammy for Best American Roots Song went to Edie Brickell and Steve Martin for “Love Has Come For You“.
  • The Grammy for Best Americana Album went to Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell for “Old Yellow Moon“.
  • The Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album went to Streets of Baltimore from the Del McCoury Band.
  • And the Grammy for Best Folk Album went to My Favorite Picture of You by Guy Clark.

Best Americana Album

  • Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell — Old Yellow Moon
  • Steve Martin & Edie Brickell — Love Has Come For You
  • Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale — Buddy And Jim
  • Mavis Staples — One True Vine
  • Allen Toussaint — Songbook

 

Best Bluegrass Album

  • The Boxcars — It’s Just A Road
  • Dailey & Vincent — Brothers Of The Highway
  • Della Mae — This World Oft Can Be
  • James King — Three Chords And The Truth
  • Del McCoury Band — The Streets Of Baltimore

 

Best Folk Album

  • Guy Clark — My Favorite Picture Of You
  • The Greencards — Sweetheart Of The Sun
  • Sarah Jarosz — Build Me Up From Bones
  • The Milk Carton Kids — The Ash & Clay
  • Various Artists; Chris Strachwitz, producer — They All Played For Us: Arhoolie Records 50th Anniversary Celebration

 

Best American Roots Song

  • “Build Me Up From Bones”
    • Sarah Jarosz, songwriter (Sarah Jarosz)
  • “Invisible”
    • Steve Earle, songwriter (Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses))
  • “Keep Your Dirty Lights On”
    • Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, songwriters (Tim O’Brien And Darrell Scott)
  • “Love Has Come For You”
    • Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin & Edie Brickell)
  • “Shrimp Po-Boy, Dressed”
    • Allen Toussaint, songwriter (Allen Toussaint)

     

OTHER GRAMMY PERFORMERS

  • Beyonce and Jay Z will open the show with “Drunk In Love.”
  • Gary Clark, Jr.
  • Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
  • Sara Bareilles featuring Carole King
  • Daft Punk featuring Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams
  • Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons
  • Lorde
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
  • Madonna
  • Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr
  • Metallica featuring Lang Lang
  • Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham
  • Katy Perry featuring Juicy J
  • Pink featuring Nate Ruess
  • Robin Thicke featuring Chicago
Jan
23

Curb Records to Release Hank III “Ramblin Man” Album

January 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  55 Comments

hank-williams-iii-ramblin-man-albumYes, the Curb Records saga for Hank3 continues.

The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr. is having to deal with yet another post-contract release from Curb records, this time called Rambin’ Man, slated for release on April 1st. Insert your April Fool’s jokes here. The album will include 8 tracks of outtakes, unreleased material, and cover songs Hank3 contributed to tribute albums and other projects during his Curb years. Most of the music is stuff Hank3 fans have already heard, repackaged to look like a new album.

Hank3 entered into a 6 album contract with Curb in the late 90′s after a child custody suit and a judge forced him to get a “real job”. Curb was able to stretch Hank3′s album count to 7 by releasing Hillbilly Joker in 2011; a “hellbilly” album Curb initially rejected, but released after Hank3 had fulfilled his contract at the end of 2010. Then Curb released an outtakes album in 2012 called Lone Gone Daddy that brought the total of Curb releases on Hank3′s 6-album contract to 8. Ramblin’ Man would make it 9.

With the news of the release of Long Gone Daddy, Hank3 fans knew Curb still had unreleased material from the 3rd generation star, because a cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “I’m The Only Hell (My Momma Ever Raised)” that was rejected on his Damn Right, Rebel Proud album had yet to surface. Though Curb decided at the time that the cover song was not fit for public consumption, similar to how they rejected Hank3′s Hillbilly Joker album altogether, they see perfectly fit to release the song now on this new record.

Hypothetically, Ramblin’ Man would be the last of Hank3′s material from the Curb era, though the inevitable “Greatest Hits” card has yet to be played by the label.

Some other interesting notes from the track list: “On My Own” was a song from Hank3′s previous Curb record Risin’ Outlaw. “Ramblin’ Man” is a song by Hank Williams that Hank3 once recorded a cover of with The Melvins, as was Merle Haggards “Okie From Muskogee”. “Fearless Boogie” is a ZZ Top song Hank3 once covered on the tribute Sharp Dressed Men. “Marijuana Blues” originally appeared on Rare Breed: The Songs of Peter LaFarge.

Hank3 has previously encouraged fans to burn these albums and share them instead of buy them. He’s also indicated intention to release new material in 2014.

Ramblin’ Man Track List:

  1. Ramblin’ Man
  2. Fearless Boogie
  3. Okie From Muskogee
  4. The Only Hell (My Momma Ever Raised)
  5. On My Own [Full Length Version]
  6. Marijuana Blues
  7. Hang On
  8. Runnin’ & Gunnin’
Jan
23

Aaron Lewis Says “That Is Not Country Music, I’m Sorry”

January 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  54 Comments

aaron-lewisAaron Lewis may know a little something about what country isn’t. He spent the first 16 years of his music career as the emotionally-distraught and misanthropic frontman of the alternative rock band Staind before deciding in 2010 to record a “country” EP. The project was released in 2011, and included the single “Country Boy” that despite the participation of George Jones and Charlie Daniels, still felt like what Aaron Lewis had been doing with his acoustic shows for over a decade, except for trying to brow beat the listener into buying into how country he was.

2012 saw the release of Aaron’s second single, “Endless Summer,” which along with other misdeeds, name dropped Jason Aldean of all people. It was looking like Lewis was falling right in line with the procession of other country music outsiders fleeing to the country genre in the twilight of their careers to find commercial strength. But when his full-length album The Road was released in late 2012, it was actually a pleasant surprise to hear just how country and non-commercial it was.

While talking to The Marion Star in Ohio ahead of an upcoming show, Aaron decided to let his disdain for the direction of country music be known.

“I think there’s enough beer on the beach, partying on the tailgate, driving around in a pickup truck, moonshine songs,” Lewis said. “I think that everything has been pretty well beaten to death. And I’ll opt for my usual … making sure the song has emotion and feeling and means something… I don’t know what it is that country radio is playing these days. I’m really not quite sure. There’s a song out right now that’s a big single for a big act, and at the very end of the song you can hear a banjo come up in the mix for four measures. And you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s the country aspect of it. Now I get it.’ But that is not country music, I’m sorry.”

Lewis also says he doesn’t like to be lumped in with Kenny Chesney when he mentions he plays country.

“It’s funny because people hear Aaron Lewis and country they often think Kenny Chesney when they should have thoughts of Jamey Johnson and David Allen Coe. It’s country like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Johnny Cash … I almost even like the fact that I’m having all of this success without the machine really embracing me. And I’m not sure that it would have been as valuable to me as an artist to have the very first song I ever delivered to country go straight to the top of the charts and never have to work for it, so I never had to start out in the honky-tonks and where it should start. And man, I’ve sold out every honky-tonk place in the last few years and it’s where it should start. I believe in building a foundation and then building your house on top of that.”

Maybe Aaron is bitter because the country industry didn’t embrace him, or maybe he’s come around to the side of dissent for other reasons. But despite where Aaron Lewis and country music began or where it eventually may be going, at the moment he seems to be making the effort to understand that making country music means embracing more than just the name.

Dec
15

“Cherokee Cowboy” Ray Price Has Passed Away

December 15, 2013 - By Trigger  //  News  //  17 Comments

ray-priceNOTE: This story is developing, and has been updated.

“I love my fans and have devoted my life to reaching out to them. I appreciate their support all these years and I hope I haven’t let them down. I am at peace. I love Jesus. I’m going to be just fine. Don’t worry about me. I’ll see you again one day.” — Ray Price

Country music legend Ray Price has passed away at his ranch in Mount Pleasant, TX after a prolonged battle with pancreatic Cancer and side effects from Cancer treatment. Ray was 87-years-old, and the above message was the final words he left to his fans.

Earlier reports by Ray’s son and local news station KETK that Ray Price had passed away yesterday apparently were presumptive, but the reports today come directly from family friend Bill Mack.

Ray returned to his ranch in Mount Pleasant on December 12th to receive hospice care after an extended stay at the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler, TX. Janie Price says Ray chose to spend his final days on his “beloved ranch surrounded by the comfort of his home, family and friends.”

Ray Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November of 2012 and began receiving radiation treatment. By February of 2013, the cancer was in remission and Ray was back performing, but the Cancer came back, and complications from the treatment had kept Ray in and out of the hospital for the majority of the year. Earlier this year, Ray was given the choice to have surgery that would place him permanently in a nursing home, and elected to forgo the procedure.

In May, Ray was admitted to the hospital for Post Radiation Syndrome, giving the country music singer extreme diarrhea and resulting in the loss of too many fluids. Ray was later discharged, but was then re-admitted to the hospital for a severe bacterial infection in his blood line, known as sepsis, in October.

Ray’s widow posted on December 12th,

With God’s blessing he has not had extreme pain. But it’s with great sadness that I announce to you today that my beloved husband has entered the final stages of his cancer that he has battled for 25 months. Anyone who knows Ray is aware that he has strong convictions and great faith in God. It’s his decision to leave the hospital and return home to spend his final days on his beloved ranch surrounded by the comfort of his home, family and friends.

Ray Price was born in Perryville, TX and served in the United States Marine Corps for 3 years before joining the “Big D Jamboree” show in Dallas in 1949. He then went on to manage Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboy band after the untimely death of Hank in 1952. In 1953, Ray Price formed his own band, the Cherokee Cowboys, which had many notable members over the years, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck , Johnny Bush, and steel guitar player Buddy Emmons amongst others.

Ray scored his first #1 hit in 1956 with the song “Crazy Arms” written by steel guitar player Ralph Mooney, and later became seminal to the 1960′s “Nashville Sound,” scoring a total of eight #1′s, including “My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You,” “City Lights,” “The Same Old Me,” “For The Good Times” in 1970 written by Kris Kristofferson, and “I Won’t Mention It Again” in 1971. One of his most well-known songs is “Heartaches By The Number” released in 1959.

He released over 50 albums over his career and became a legend of country music, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. Ray won two Grammys, two ACM Awards, and a CMA Award for Album of the Year from 1971. Ray continued to perform all the way up to this year, and released his last album Last of the Breed with good friends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 2007.

Oct
31

The Return of Garth Brooks Could Have a Colossal Impact

October 31, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  76 Comments

garth-brooks-hall-of-fameOh the irony that the man whose name is on the tip of many people’s tongues as the one who brought country music to its knees and made it more about money than music, could also be the man in the best position to ultimately help save it.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about Garth Brooks.

Over the past few weeks and months, Garth has been dropping hints to fans that the future will hold some big announcements, and big events. Last week he released the cryptic message, “The sevens have aligned. It has begun… Thank you for believing… love, g.” He also announced recently that he will be ending his Las Vegas residence, and that his last show on November 29th will be televised on CBS. Rumors and conjecture are swirling, but so far there has been little information that is either concrete or confirmed about Garth’s future.

In truth there’s a lot less mystery here than some would like you to believe. What’s going to happen is that here very soon, either on his November 29th TV special or shortly before or after, Garth will announce a new album, and plans for a subsequent arena/stadium tour in support, and it will all transpire in 2014. As much as Garth may want to get everybody buzzing with speculation and anticipation, this is exactly what he said he was going to do when he quote “retired” from country music in 2000. He said then that he wanted to take more time to be with his family, and that once his kiddos were done with school, he’d ponder a return. And lo and behold, his youngest daughter Allie is now 17, and scheduled to graduate High School this year. So yes, 7′s are aligning, or whatever.

This is 2013, and everything surrounding the name “Garth Brooks” has changed. If you’re taking to some social network channel to beam, “Hey you know what? With the crap that’s out there today in country music, Garth Brooks doesn’t even sound half that bad,” then you are already a couple of years behind the relevant opinion curve. Whatever Waylon Jennings said or didn’t say about Garth, pantyhose, and a certain element of foreplay that Garth was the equivalent to, it’s all virtually irrelevant at this point. The simple fact is Garth Brooks, despite a nearly 15-year absence from the full-time music hustle, is as poised as any to make major waves in the country music world, and to do so his way.

READ: Why Time Has Been Kind to the Music of Garth Brooks

In many ways the 7′s have aligned for Garth, and not just because of the particulars of his personal life. Last year George Strait announced he would end full-time touring, and he’s making his final rounds on the arena/stadium circuit as we speak. Both Alan Jackson and Vince Gill have recently accepted their fate that they’re no longer top tier concert draws, and have gone in a more rootsy direction and taken their places as country music legacy acts. Even Kenny Chesney said recently he’s going to take a break from touring. All of this leaves a massive void in the country music touring realm for a big-drawing, well-established artist.

But just what shape will Garth’s triumphant return take? That is really the only question left to answer. We really don’t have much intel or insight into this subject this early in his phase of returning, but what I do feel confident in going on the record as saying is that I don’t see Garth getting involved in either the country rap or laundry list lyric craze, or any other current pop country trend. As much as Garth’s detractors hate to admit it, one of the reasons he retired, and one of the reasons his regrettable Chris Gains era reared its ugly head is because Garth was bored, and didn’t want to chase trends. Garth wanted to make his own trends, and his own music. Whatever Garth does, it will be true to Garth.

And Garth also won’t do anything unless he knows it’s going to be successful, both with its reception and its financial reward. He’s already voiced concerns about how the digital age will effect his ability to release music. If/when he does release music and go on tour, he will have all bets hedged, and it will be huge.

And even if Garth gets out on stage and acts like a jukebox of his Greatest Hits with some new material mixed in, this will offer such a stark contrast to country music’s current flavors, it will immediately constitute a positive counter-balance, swinging the scales in whatever degree back to the true sound of country music. Look at what Garth has been doing at his Vegas shows. He’s been stripping them back, just him and his acoustic guitar, playing songs from Merle Haggard and George Jones. I don’t expect to see this specifically from his reboot, but I do expect it to be traditional and substantive in nature compared to the current country mainstream. Garth isn’t going to be able to fool anyone. He can’t fit in Luke Bryan’s skinny jeans. He’s going to get out there and be Garth, and by the sheer draw of a man who’s bested only by Elvis in album sales in music history will create a dramatic amount of interest, and assert a tremendous amount of influence.

Oct
26

Inaugural Inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame Announced

October 26, 2013 - By Trigger  //  News  //  42 Comments

outlaw-music-hall-of-fameThe 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

Pioneers/Innovators Pre-1970

  • Hank Williams Sr.
  • Loretta Lynn
  • The Carter Family 
  • Bobby Bare
  • Chris Gantry 

Highwaymen (1970-1990)

  • 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

Guardian Award

  • 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.

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