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Oh 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.
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.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open in the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an event carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announced in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’s hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter Family
- Bobby Bare
- Chris Gantry
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi Smith
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey Morgan
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970′s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genre—such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter—recognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
As much as we may love the older music performers we grew up with, or cherish the performers from a past beyond our own, there might be nothing worse to behold as a music fan than watching an aging artist who refuses to come to grips with reality, and won’t let go of the spotlight. Of course it is a shame that the music business is so callous towards its aging talent and seems so quick to cast its older entertainers off. But all artists eventually age and experience the passing of mass interest, and must face a new set of realities.
As much as Ronnie Dunn started out showing promise as a substantive artist and one willing to speak his mind about the state of the country music business after the Brooks & Dunn breakup, he’s now out there now kinking his hair and cutting country rap songs. Hank Williams Jr. might be the poster boy for the country artist who’s unwilling to face their fate; carousing with Kid Rock and taking great care not to show any gray in his mane. Remember when Alabama collaborated with ‘N Sync? Or the catastrophe of Kenny Rogers’ facelift? Even our beloved Willie Nelson had a moment when he thought the best thing for his career was to cut a Dave Matthews song produced by Kenny Chesney. We can’t blame our country heroes for not wanting to call it quits from the mainstream spotlight until they’re absolutely sure it’s time, but sometimes you wonder why they just can’t rest on their laurels, appreciate their years of success and the financial windfall it afforded them, and simply refocus on the music as their first priority.
That is exactly what we are seeing from two of country music’s most prestigious previous heavyweights: Alan Jackson and Vince Gill. With 34 CMA Awards, over 20 Grammys, and and some 80 million records sold between the two, they both have seen their share of overwhelming commercial success, public notoriety, and peer recognition. But over the last few years the writing has been on the wall that their time has come, and their days of widespread radio play and big awards are over.
And so what did these two men do? Did they shake their fists at the system and criticize it for being unfair? Did they try to mix it up with some young artist outside of the genre to hopefully rekindle interest? Did they debut a new look to try to hide their age? No, they both did something out-of-the-ordinary—they embraced their roles as legacy artists, and put out albums that paid homage to the roots of the music that brought them both so much fortune over the years.
Vince Gill teemed up with legendary steel guitar player Paul Franklin and put out an impressive and energetic tribute to the West Coast influence on country called Bakersfield, swapping songs from California country titans Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. For all the chatter about country having to evolve to stay commercially viable, Bakersfield debuted at #4 on the charts and sold an impressive 12,000 copies its first week—virtually unheard of for a tribute album, especially one from an older artist.
Right on the heels of Bakersfiled‘s success, Alan Jackson has just released an album of bluegrass music simply called The Bluegrass Album. It includes 8 Jackson originals all done in authentic bluegrass style, and covers artists like Bill Monroe and The Dillards. The record is a critic’s favorite and has been creating tremendous buzz.
As much as country music, especially in the current era, may feel like a business of the here and now, one thing that still separates country from other genres is the role of the legacy artist. Rock once had this as well, but there is a reason a 51-year-old Sheryl Crow decided to bring her act to country in 2013. As much as it may pain purists when pop and rock artists cross over to country, it also speaks to how despite the conventional thinking of modern country as a kid’s game, country still deliver strength to older artists. Sure, artists like Vince Gill and Alan Jackson may no longer be able to sell out arenas, but they’re also not considered “has-been’s” simply because the big hits have stopped coming. You may not be treated as a superstar in the twilighting of your country career, but you’re still doted on as a legend by core fans who will never forget your contributions. That was one of the unfortunate things about the early passing of Waylon Jennings. He never got that opportunity to take a victory lap and stand as a country music elder statesman.
Like Emmylou Harris allowing her raven hair to turn a shimmering silver, watching an artist age in country music can be a splendid thing to behold when the artist performs the transition with grace, class, and wisdom, and the industry allows this process to unfold naturally instead of shutting them out. By setting new parameters of success that don’t have to do with sales and flashy awards, an artist can craft the finishing touches on their legacy while the genre shows their respects for their contributions.
But moreover, what Vince Gill and Alan Jackson have proven is they still have plenty of tread on the tires, and aging artists can still have a sizable impact and contribution to the country music canon.
From author David Cantwell and the American Music Series of the University of Texas Press comes a brand new book about the iconic country music Hall of Famer and Kennedy Center Honoree Merle Haggard. Covering his entire career, but focusing mostly on his most prolific decades, Merle Haggard: The Running Kind delves into this complex, often contradictory icon of country music, exploring the creation of many of Merle Haggard’s greatest hits and the life and times that inspired them.
This 294-page book focuses on the music, and the man. From humble beginnings in California, to becoming one of the most well-recognized names in country music, Merle Haggard: The Running Kind explores the fascinating contradictions—most of all, the desire for freedom in the face of limits set by the world or self-imposed—that define not only Haggard’s music and public persona but the very heart of American culture.
Merle Haggard: The Running Kind is available from the University of Texas Press, Amazon, and all major online book retailers.
Saving Country Music is also giving a copy away to anyone who wishes to leave a comment below, naming either their favorite Merle Haggard album or song. And if you can’t pick just one, list as many as you want. Just make sure to include your real email address so we can contact you if you are the winner.
***UPDATE: Congratulations to David Smith who won the free copy! Thanks everyone else for contributing!
Kudos to Vince Gill, who yesterday (9-8-13) emerged from the Muriel Kauffman Theatre in Kansas City to accost a slew of Westboro Baptist Church protesters outside, apparently protesting his appearance because he is married to Christian music artist Amy Grant. Both Vince and Amy Grant are divorced after previous marriages.
“Vince Gill, what in the world are you doing out here? More importantly, what are you doing with another man’s wife?” says one female protester as Vince walks amongst them, with an anti-Westboro bystander taping the incident with a smartphone. “I came out to see what hatred really looked like in the face,” Vince responds.
“Don’t you know that divorce plus remarriage equals adultery?” the female protester continues.
“Don’t you know that (you) are lucky that you don’t have the sign that says something about my wife?” Vince snaps back, and then says, “(Jesus) said a lot of stuff about forgiveness, about grace. You guys don’t have any of it.” Then Vice moves on, telling another protester that he’s seen him on TV before, and then calls him a “dipshit.” Before the video cuts off, Vince asks, “Are any of you Phelps’s, or are you guys like the ‘C’ team?
Gill is currently promoting his new album with steel guitar player Paul Franklin called Bakersfield. The duo switches off covering songs from Merle Haggard and Buck Owens from the heyday of the Bakersfield Sound.
Vince Gill was previously married to singer Janis Oliver from the country duo Sweethearts of the Rodeo. They married in 1980 and had one daughter, eventually divorcing in 1998. Amy Grant was previously married to Christian singer Gary Chapman. The couple married in 1982 and had 3 children, divorcing in 1999. Vince Gill and Amy Grant married in 2000, and have a daughter.
A big battle ground in country music right now is the presence of so many songs about trucks. Everywhere you turn, there is a song being released by a big country music personality that drones on and on about tailgates, Chevy’s, lift kits, mud flaps, etc. etc. Though this recent popularity trend seems especially sinister in its simplistic, incessant nature, it is not necessarily unprecedented in country. From the early 60′s into the mid 70′s, songs about semi-trucks and truck drivers were all the rage, with big names like Merle Haggard, Del Reeves, and Buck Owens getting in on the action, and professional country songwriters writing songs to specifically to capitalize off the trend similar to what is happening in country music today.
The difference of course was many of these classic trucker songs were considered very well-written, with many of them delving into deep issues like death, loneliness, loss of family, etc. Country music’s new crop of truck songs and their respective songwriters and performers could learn a thing or two about storytelling and soul from these traditional country truck driving songwriters and performers.
Maybe the best known of the country trucking crooners, with the most-recognized, most-covered trucking song in “Six Days On The Road,” Dave Dudley is an overlord of the country music truck driving music subset. Holding an honorary solid gold membership card to the Teamsters Union, he broke out with “Six Days On The Road” in 1963 and never looked back. Other great country trucker classics like “Truck Drivin’ Son-Of-A-Gun,” “Trucker’s Prayer,” and “Keep On Truckin’” are also attributed to Dudley, but like many of the old truck singers, he had his standard country hits too. Dave Dudley was actually the first to cut Kris Kristofferson’s song “Viet Nam Blues” that first put Kristofferson on the songwriting map, and Dudley’s only #1 song was the Tom T. Hall-written number “The Pool Shark.” Dudley had hits for over a decade, with his last big single “Me and Ole C.B” peaking at #12 on the charts in 1975.
Red Sovine was known for his trucking songs, but his particular twist was how he would talk in prose instead of singing his songs in rhyming verses. Sovine’s speaking style would have significant influence on the rest of country outside the trucking sub genre, while his trucking songs set the bar for emotional impact and storytelling. Sovine’s #1 “Teddy Bear” is right up there with Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” as one of the most well-recognized country trucking songs, and Sovine also charted another #1 with “Giddyup Go.” His song “Phantom 309″ wasn’t a huge hit, but it found a new audience when Tom Waits included a live version of it on his album Nighthawks At The Diner. Sovine also had a non-trucking #1 hit in a duet with Webb Pierce in 1955 with the song “Why Baby Why.”
With a patch over his right eye, Dick Curless was considered a throwback even in his own time. He was one of the pioneers of country trucking music, with his first big hit “A Tombstone Every Mile” making an appearance as a top five country hit in 1965. Songs like “Traveling Man,” “Highway Man,” and “Big Wheel Cannonball” established Dick’s persona as a man constantly on the move, and won him a spot on the nationwide Buck Owens All American tour. Like many of country’s trucker song stars, Curless spent a lot of time in California and was signed to Capitol Records, though he was known to frequently go back to his home in Maine to recover from a grueling schedule of touring and performances.
While Red Simpson may have not had the huge hits of his trucker song counterparts, he was also the one most dedicated to the specialized version of country. With only a few exceptions, virtually all of Red Simpson’s songs are about trucking or the highway patrol. He was the trucker songwriter other trucker songwriters listened to, and wrote many trucker hits for other artists. Based out of Bakersfield, he co-wrote songs with Buck Owens, and became a hot commodity when trucker songs became popular. The trucking song “Sam’s Place” that went on to become a #1 for Buck Owens was written by Red, and in 1975, Red landed his own big hit with “I’m A Truck.” At 79, Red is the last of the original country trucker song stars still around. In 1995, he recorded two duets with Junior Brown, “Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express.” He is still recording, recently doing a duet with underground country artist Bob Wayne, and rumored to have an album called The Bard of Bakersfield in the works.
C.W. McCall got a late start in the trucking genre, joining the second wave of the movement in the mid-70′s. But his contribution was significant, especially with his #1 hit, the trucking song standard and generally epic “Convoy.” The song inspired a movie of the same name that starred Kris Kristofferson in 1978, and McCall was regarded in some circles as the “Outlaw” of the country trucker song performers. “Convoy” became so big, some consider McCall a one hit wonder, but he had numerous successful songs, inside and outside the trucking realm. His first charting single was “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe,” and he also had a #2 single with “Roses For Mama.” C.W. McCall’s popular career was pretty short, ranging from roughly 1974-1978, but his impact, especially with “Convoy” cannot be understated.
Though Del Reeves is known for contributing much more to the country music genre than just trucking songs, his two significant cuts, the #1 hit “Girl On The Billboard” from 1965, and the top 5 hit “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” from 1968 make Del Reeves and honorary trucking song god if there ever was one, and an important performer in the development of the sub genre. Reeves also put out an album called Trucker’s Paradise in 1973.
…and to an extent their sister band Asleep At The Wheel deserve honorary mention for being inspired and a part of the 70′s-era trucker song revolution, though it is widely considered they were somewhat on the outside looking in. Nonethess, Commander Cody’s second album that consisted mostly of covers called Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites from 1972 might be one of the most prized albums of the sub genre.
Not really known exclusively as singer of truck driver songs, but his albums The Truckin’ Sessions (1998) and The Truckin’ Session, Vol. 2 certainly deserve mention, with the first one considered by many to be the album that launched Dale’s career. Dale has also been known to drive trucks and his own bus upon occasion.
Another artist not primarily known for trucker songs, but Junior Brown has them scattered throughout his discography, including the title track off of his 1996 album, Semi Crazy. Junior’s signature song “Highway Patrol” rekindles the symbiotic relationship between trucker songs and highway patrol songs first started by Red Simpson, who he recorded two duets with in 1995.
Aaron Tippin may be best known for his more patriotic songs, but he’s peppered trucker songs here and there throughout his career. In 2009, Tippin released an album called In Overdrive that included many truck driving cover songs and closed out with two originals. His truck driving cred is helped by the fact that he was a real-life truck driver before launching his career in country music.
A lesser-known underground country artist, but one who includes trucker songs (usually of a pretty seedy nature) on every one of his albums, including his 2nd album 13 Truckin’ Songs. Bob Wayne recently performed and recorded a duet with Red Simpson after re-discovering him in a Bakersfield trailer park.
Merle Haggard & Buck Owens as part of the Bakersfield Sound both had quite a few big trucker anthems. One of Jerry Reed’s signature songs is “East Bound & Down” from the Smokey & The Bandit movies where he played a trucker. Tom T. Hall wrote and recorded a few trucking songs. And there’s many other artists who’ve recorded more than one trucker song. Who are some of your favorites?
James L. Payne, aka Jody Payne, electric guitarist for Willie Nelson for 35 years, has passed away. He died this morning (8-10) in Stapleton, AL due to cardiac arrest according to his wife Vicki. Payne had been suffering from heart problems for years prior.
Payne was part of Willie Nelson’s legendary “Family Band” for over 3 decades until he decided to retire from the road and began teaching guitar. He was born in in Garrard County, Kentucky where he began singing at six years old. Jody first played professionally with Charlie Monroe in 1951, and then was drafted into the army in 1958. After two years of service, he settled in Detroit where he initially met Willie Nelson in 1962, but did not start playing with him until years later. Throughout the 60′s Payne played bass for Ray Price, and also played with Merle Haggard among others before eventually joining Willie in 1973.
Payne was married to country singer Sammi Smith. The couple eventually divorced. They had a son Waylon Payne who is also a musician, performer, and actor. He is also survived by another son Austin Payne, and his wife Vicki who he married in 1980.
Willie Nelson’s Facebook page has posted, “Our friend will be missed.”
Here’s Jody Payne singing Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother” on the pilot episode of Austin City Limits.
Just in time to coincide with the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Bakersfield Sound exhibit, country music maestro Vince Gill, along with legend of the steel guitar Paul Franklin have released Bakersfield, a tribute to the Bakersfield Sound and it’s two biggest icons, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. This ten song album swaps between Buck and Merle tunes and features some of their most notable songs like “Foolin’ Around,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” and “The Fightin’ Side Of Me.” And you can win yourself a copy, including one copy singed by Vince and Paul right here on Saving Country Music (see below).
“Vince and Paul offer a great new touch to a great old sound,” says Merle Haggard who wrote the liner notes for the album. “It was great, certainly to hear my music done with the great touch of Vince and Paul. I feel highly complimented. But it was especially great to hear what they did with Buck’s stuff. Some may not notice, but I for one knew how great Buck really was, first as a musician, then as an artist.”
Vince Gill concurs, saying “This is just as much a guitar record for me as it is a singing record.” Gill plays all the acoustic and electric guitar fills and solos on the album, while Paul Franklin, who like Vince is a member of the prestigious studio supergroup The Time Jumpers and a 13-time winner of the ACM’s “Steel Guitar Player of the Year,” takes the rest of the fills. Together they breathe new life into songs originally released between 1961 and 1974.
To enter to win a copy of Bakersfield, simply leave a comment below telling us your favorite Buck Owens and/or Merle Haggard song. And if you have more than one favorite, leave as many favorite songs as you want. Just make sure to use your real email address when signing in to leave a comment so we can contact you to receive the goods if you’re chosen. Two people will be chosen to receive the CD, and one an autographed CD.
Track List:1. Foolin’ Around – Buck Owens (Written by Harlan Howard and Buck Owens) 2. Branded Man – Merle Haggard (Written by Merle Haggard) 3. Together Again – Buck Owens (Written by Buck Owens) 4. The Bottle Let Me Down – Merle Haggard (Written by Merle Haggard) 5. He Don’t Deserve You Anymore – Buck Owens (Written by Arty Lange and Buck Owens) 6. I Can’t Be Myself – Merle Haggard (Written by Merle Haggard) 7. Nobody’s Fool But Yours – Buck Owens (Written by Buck Owens) 8. Holding Things Together – Merle Haggard (Written by Bob Trotten and Merle Haggard) 9. But I Do – Buck Owens (Written by Tommy Collins) 10. The Fightin’ Side Of Me – Merle Haggard (Written by Merle Haggard)
(8-6-13) Congratulations to commenter “Casey” who won the autographed copy, and “Keith L.” (who complained about folks not following the rules, so maybe its appropriate), and “Troy Turner.”
After a six year wait to release an album of original material at the mercy of Curb Records’ career-shattering and sometimes illegal talent retention program, prolonging the release process for artists on their final album with the label nearly indefinitely, the embattled and bruised LeAnn Rimes has finally released Spitfire—a diverse country pop record with a few interesting moments, a few moments that are not so interesting, but an intriguing mix of content and influences that is worth a deeper sniff than your average Music Row fare.
These days with so many of country music’s women setting the bar higher and higher in regards to quality and progressiveness of content, you almost can’t discount any country female project without a closer investigation. As the men try to outpace each other in their headlong dash to see who can reach the newest low in country on a daily basis, the women are doing everything they can to keep country out of the dirt road ditch. And after all, you have to be a pretty hard critic to not hear some of those very first LeAnn Rimes hits like “Blue” and not feel a stirring in your country heart and keep hope that LeAnn will at some point in her career re-discover her original, unblemished magic.
But LeAnn Rimes has been her own worst enemy over the past few years. A big glossy magazine cover story cheating scandal erupted for her a few years ago, and more recently a strange story about her tipping off photographers to where to snap her wearing a bikini in hopes to draw positive pub. When you’re a bona-fide superstar at 14-year-old, it can do strange things to the psyche, and that is what we’ve seen with LeAnn over the years. One minute she wants the cameras to respect her privacy, and another she wants their focus.
The chatter around Spitfire has been polarizing to darn near bellicose, with the main focus being the album’s lack of commercial appeal. While in the mainstream world this accusation might be poison, to independent country fans this is a flag that maybe this album is one of those rare Music Row gems, similar to Kellie Pickler’s 100 Proof from 2012. But what you get with Spitfire is an album that is neither here nor there, resting in sort of the demilitarized zone of country music where neither the mainstream nor independent world really want to claim it or sing its praises.
But when stripped down to just the songs, there is still some material on Spitfire worthy of both mainstream and independent ears. The second song on the album “What Have I Done” is surprisingly mellow, subtle, and artistic, without being sappy or mawkish like many mainstream ballads can veer towards. It’s a sincere little song right off the bat that let’s you know that Spitfire is not going to be some cookie cutter album. It also sets the tone in the album of LeAnn directly addressing her now well-chronicled infidelity, giving Spitfire a personal feel. And then how does LeAnn follow this up? With another song that delves into these very same subjects, and with a similar understated and artistic approach in “Borrowed” that is brushed with mournful steel guitar.
But in between these songs is the busy and overdone “Gasoline and Matches.” Just like the title track of the album, it tries too hard to evoke this overused theme in modern pop country of badass women oversinging songs that always involve fire in some way and that completely sap any soul out of a composition. As complimentary as one can be about female country in 2013, this audio equivalent to three snaps in a ‘Z’ formation is as unsavory as it gets to the active music listener, and so is the oversinging that usually accompanies it. This formula rears its ugly head again in the very rhythmic, almost rapping “You Ain’t Right.” Though you can hear how the lyrics would be a fun listen for some women, these songs illustrate that in female pop country in 2013, it’s not what you sing, but how you sing it, squeezing in silly, acrobatic vocal runs that ruin the story of the song, ignore the sweet spot of the singer’s range, and stretch the song’s pocket until it just comes across as saccharine diva-ish show-offidness. It’s the singing competition show influence on popular music.
Another song from Spitfire that has some people talking is “I Do Now.” The track mentions Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and delves into how you may love classic country artists and their songs when you’re young, but never really understand the subject matter until you’ve lived through the themes yourself. Though the story of the song works very well, once again LeAnn’s vocal approach centers your attention around her singing, and will keep traditional country fans that the song would otherwise appeal to at arm’s length.
And that is pretty much how Spitfire goes. It may be too heady for a wide mainstream audience, but there’s a little too much fluff to enact a resurgence of LeAnn’s traditionalist roots. Or, if you want to see the glass half full, there’s a little something for everyone. Maybe this album was destined to be misunderstood, and seeing how it has fallen pretty precipitously in the charts, this would seem to be a proper diagnosis (though it may be just as much a commentary on Mike Curb’s eroding powerbase). But instead of letting one song or LeAnn’s personal missteps outside of music turn you off of this album, if you’re subject to liking some of the music coming from the mainstream when it’s not positively awful, you may want to give Spitfire a fair glance and decide for yourself.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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Two guns up on the two songs below.
“If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.” — Lindi Ortega
Exquisitely antiqued and strikingly original, old school country singer and native Canadian Lindi Ortega is the northern emissary for country music’s current female revolution. A class act all around that is regarded just as highly for her self-penned songs as her heavenly (or devilish) voice, Lindi is a creative maelstrom that sends the room spinning from her ability to expose the most blinding beauty from life’s inherent darkness.
Now living in Nashville, and benefiting from some song placements in the new ABC drama series named after her new home, Lindi is starting to pack venues across the country, leaving a trail of broken hearts and positive buzz. After a rousing show at Austin’s most legendary listening room The Cactus Cafe on Monday (7-1), the gracious and arresting songwriter was kind enough to sit down and explain the inspiration behind her music.
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Trigger: There’s sort of two burgeoning movements in country music right now, and you’re part of both of them. Last year and this year we keep getting great albums from Canadians. How is it being a Canadian playing country music, as a perspective?
Lindi Ortega: I never really think about that when I do what I do. I just know what I listen to and what I’m inspired by. I don’t think about the fact that I wasn’t born in the southern United States and raised on a farm. I feel like maybe in a past life I might have been. That’s why it speaks to me. My mom was really into country music when I was growing up. She sort of planted the seed in my mind; a seed that grew into a great love and appreciation for especially old school country; you know Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, Waylon and all of them. So I don’t really think about the fact that I’m from Canada when I’m writing songs, or paying tribute or homage to that music. I just happen to be.
Trigger: You’re also part of this revolution of young, beautiful, talented women that are giving country a shot of substance and showing respect to the music’s roots. There’s a lot of people talking about 2013 as the “Year of the Woman” in country music. Names like Caitlin Rose and Kacey Musgraves are brought up, and so is Lindi Ortega as an example. Why do you think the women are outpacing the men right now as far as substance in country music?
Lindi Ortega: I don’t know, but I’m glad that it’s happening. It’s so great because when I started doing country-inspired music in Toronto, I didn’t know anybody who was doing it. I didn’t even hear it around me. Then the more I was doing it, the more I would hear about it. And then of course I moved to Nashville and it’s all around me. It’s so great that people are appreciating the old school way. It’s nice to know that that art of live off-the-floor recordings, and not a shitload of Auto-tune and fancy stuff is going on. I’m glad that’s not a dying art. And I’m glad that females are doing it.
Trigger: So back in Toronto, you’re playing music and you had the nickname “Indie Lindi.”
Lindi Ortega: I still do!
Trigger: So you’re playing this music, and you weren’t in a scene in Toronto of rootsy musicians?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah I was a little bit autonomous. I was kind of anti-social to a fault I guess. I just stayed in my room and wrote songs. I wasn’t really part of any scene. There was a scene. When I was doing music there was much more of an indie rock scene. Now it’s a bit different, there’s a little more variety there. But there’s wasn’t a whole lot of alt-country back then. Now it’s everywhere.
Trigger: Is that what you consider yourself? Because you said “country-inspired” before and you’re saying “alt-country” now.
Lindi Ortega: Well there’s so many labels for it and I don’t know I guess. Some people don’t think I’m country at all. And I guess if you’re listening to the radio, I don’t sound country. I like to say I’m very much inspired by old-school country. And what kind of country that is in this day and age in the modern era, I don’t know. Hey, you can call it whatever you want. As long as people are listening to it is all that’s important to me.
Trigger: Did Cigarettes and Truckstops feel like your breakout album?
Lindi Ortega: In a way, yeah. I feel like there were a lot of things that led to having successful shows. One would be the Social Distortion tour that I did; the crazy pairing with me and Social D and I did two tours with them and it exposed me to a wide audience. Amazingly they were very accepting of me and the music I’ve done. And of course the Nashville TV show, and having a few song placements on there helped.
Trigger: Have you physically seen a bump from the Nashville TV exposure?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah. People tell me at shows, “I heard your song on Nashville and I checked you out.” I think it’s amazing that it was able to resonate that way. It actually led to people coming out to shows which is great.
Trigger: Attractive women are not supposed to be as talented as you are. Usually if someone is strong in one suit, they’re not strong in another. You just don’t see a lot of beautiful women that are creative dynamos. (READ if this part of the question offends you.) Where does your motivation to make music that may not appeal to everyone come from?
Lindi Ortega: You’re too kind to me. I spent my whole day going, “I’m getting old!” But my motivation comes from my influences, and people that have stuck to their guns. I read a lot of biographies. If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.
I don’t care about money. I honestly don’t. I don’t give a shit. I could stay at a shitty motel, I think it’s more fun. And I like riding in little vans and I love doing it that way. I think there’s a story in that, and I write songs that are stories and that tell stories. My influences inspire me to have integrity and to do what I love and be passionate about it. I don’t care about making millions or any of that. Of course if it happens, like everyone says it’s icing on the cake. But I’m happy doing what I do. I love what I do, and this is a beautiful existence for me. I get to tour. I get to go to different cities and see the world. I can’t imagine a better existence than this.
Trigger: Are you a road dog?
Lindi Ortega: I love it. I get antsy when I’m not on the road. I start to miss it and I can’t wait to get back out. It gets to a point where hotel rooms feel more like home.
Trigger: How do birds inspire your music and image?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah, I’m a bird lover. And recently I guess ravens have been my thing. But I love all birds. I have a tattoo that says, “Bird On A Wire.” It’s a Leonard Cohen song. The image of a bird on a wire and that whole song just speaks to me. Something about flying in the sky and that type of free existence resonates with me. I always think my style’s a little bit of Frida Kahlo meets Wonder Woman meets Johnny Cash. The Johnny Cash thing is of course the black thing. I always think of that movie and the line and the manager saying to him, “Johnny, why are you wearing black? You look like you’re going to a funeral.” And he’d say, “Well maybe I am.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s brilliant! I want to go to that funeral too!” I’m half Mexican, so that whole Dia de los Muertos thing, and dying and death and the whole fleeting of our existence is always running through my mind. And I don’t always think of it in a morbid way. I guess I think of it in the more Mexican way, the colorful aspect.
Trigger: You mentioned Frida Kahlo and I saw a picture of your guitar case and Frida Kahlo is all over it. How did she influence your music?
Lindi Ortega: Well I saw the movie a long time ago. That was the first thing that inspired me because she was such a character. And then I learned more about her life and read biographies about her. And I thought in the midst of all her emotional pain she was so full of life, and it was so interesting to me. And her art was so incredible. Her self-portraits I found most fascinating because the expression on her face I felt was very familiar to one I’ve seen in the mirror a couple of times; moments of loneliness and it spoke to me. I love her. I think she’s an incredible artist and a strong woman, an inspiration and I’m slightly obsessed, and I have a song about her on my next record.
Trigger: Speaking of that, is there any hints of new stuff that you can tell us? Do you have a new album coming out?
Lindi Ortega: I do. I have a new one coming out hopefully in the fall. I’m really excited about it. Dave Cobb was the producer. He did Secret Sisters and Jason Isbell. We had a blast, it was a lot of fun. Everyone that played on it was awesome.
Radio station 93.5 KOOK and 1230 KERV in Kerrville, TX, managed by legendary DJ Big ‘G’ Gordon Ames has a radio promo done by Kinky Friedman that simply says, “We play Hank. All of them.” Yes, we all know about country music’s most famous family, and the lineage passed down from Hank Williams, to Hank Williams Jr., to Hank Williams III. But here are the other 5 Hank’s that helped establish the sound of country music (and just like all three generations of Hank Williams, didn’t actually have “Hank” as their legal first names).
Clarence Eugene Snow, aka “The Singing Ranger” is a Country Music Hall of Famer and one of the few old-school country artists originally from Canada. In 1962 Snow was the first performer to take the country classic “I’ve Been Everywhere” to #1—just one of the over 85 singles Snow would have chart over a 3-decade period reaching all the way to 1980. Hank made his first record for RCA Victor in 1936 while still living in Canada. He moved to Nashville in 1945 and became one of the most influential singers of the time, as well as an accomplished songwriter. Snow was one of the primary people responsible for the rise of Elvis, helping to get him on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1954 and introducing him to Colonel Tom Parker (who later dumped Snow to focus on Elvis’s career). Along with “I’ve Been Everywhere,” some other notable Hank Snow songs are “I’m Moving On”, “The Golden Rocket,” and “Hello Love.”
Lawrence Hankins Locklin from McLellan Florida was one of country music’s first honky tonk-style singer songwriters. Maybe not as well-known as Hank Williams, but he sold an estimated 15 million records worldwide and was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for nearly 50 years. Locklin songs have been recorded by Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam, and Dean Martin to name a few. His heyday was in the early 60′s with his most well-recognized song “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” hitting #1 in 1960. His first #1 was in 1953 with “Let Me Be The One” and he released his first charting single in 1949 called “The Same Sweet Girl.” Hank Locklin was an excellent singer, and released a series of tribute albums showcasing songs by Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Eddy Arnold. Hank released over 70 singles and 27 albums, including a gospel album as late as 2006. Though he had a hit in 1968 with the song “Country Hall of Fame,” Locklin has yet to be inducted to the prestigious institution.
Henry William Thompson born in Waco, TX was one of country’s most popular stars of Western swing and honky tonk all the way from the late 40′s to the mid 70′s. With his excellent backing band The Brazos Valley Boys, they were responsible for over 80 charting singles, including the iconic country classic “Wild Side of Life,” and the humorous “Rub A Dub,” both hitting #1. The 1987 novel Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb that was later turned into the 2009 movie starring Jeff Bridges is rumored to have been inspired by many different country music artists. But according to Cobb, Hank Thompson is the true culprit, most notably from using local bands to back him up later in his career after The Brazos Valley Boys disbanded. Hank Thompson also had his own television show for a short period.
Garland Perry Cochran is one of the greatest, most prolific songwriters in the history of country music, who also had his own career as a recording artist. Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and “She’s Got You” were penned by Cochran. So was Ray Price’s super hit “Make The World Go Away.” Cochran was active and relevant in country music all the way up to his death, later writing hits for Merle Haggard, Ronnie Milsap, and George Strait. As a performer, Cochran scored 7 singles on the country charts. In 2012, Jamey Johnson released a tribute album called Living For A Song: Tribute to Hank Cochran to critical acclaim and commercial success. Few songwriters are held in as high regard in Nashville as Hank Cochran.
Walter Louis Garland was a country and rock & roll guitar God of the 1950′s and 60′s and beyond. Part of the “Nashville A Team” of studio musicians, Hank’s guitar handiwork appears on recordings from Marty Robbins, Mel Tillis, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty, and many more. But he might be most famous for playing on many of Elvis’s big hits from the late 50′s and early 60′s, including “Little Sister,” and “I Need Your Love Tonight.” Hank Garland is one of those musicians who helped define the sound of an era. In 1961, Garland was in a car accident that left him in a coma, and he later had to re-learn how to talk and play guitar. Though Garland once again became an accomplished musician, he never regain his place as one of Nashville most sought-after guitar players. Despite being known mostly as a side musician, he had a million-selling record with his song “Sugarfoot Rag.”
Whenever I find myself thirsting for inspiration, I tend to search out the blessed gift that is the harmonies of sister pairings. Any two great singers can harmonize, but few can match the instinct and tone of two blood relatives, making the artform seem as effortless as breath. From The Carter Family to The Louvin Brothers, harmony is one of the most indelible foundations of country and roots music, and will always be relevant to the audio palette no matter what the trends of popular music are.
Following is a list of singing sisters who never cease to inspire.
Sisters Sarah and Savannah Church from the coal mining region of Dickerson County, Virginia bring some of the most exquisite harmonies to their love for traditional country and gospel music. The fraternal twins are regularly joined by their brother Seth Church on lead guitar, and have all the potential in the world, whether they decide to stay performing more traditional material, or try and branch out into original compositions. Ain’t no Auto-tune here folks! Just simple, God-given talent.
It borders on being criminally negligent that Paige Anderson has yet to be presented with a broader audience. But it will happen, and when it does, you can bet sister Aimee will not be far behind. And neither will younger brother Ethan, and youngest sister Daisy, who’ve all been performing in the Anderson Family Bluegrass band for years. Impeccable harmonies flow from this family, yet Paige’s greatest attributes may be her flat-picking guitar and burgeoning songwriting, bolstered by sister Amiee’s sweet fiddle and accompanying voice.
Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers from Muscle Shoals, AL are signed to Universal Republic and had the prestigious T Bone Burnett executive produce their debut album. With they opportunities they’ve been bestowed, they’re able to bring beautiful harmonies and a neotraditional sound to a much wider audience.
From Sweden, these two talented sisters are turning the world onto the beauty of Americana music when it is mixed with the roots of traditional country. First Aid Kit’s voices rise like few I’ve ever heard, and their songwriting challenges the best composers on any continent. No better example of how roots music can progress while still preserving its roots than First Aid Kit.
Don’t say that Western Swing is dead! One listen to The Quebe Sisters (pronounced Kway-bee) from Texas and you’ll see that Western Swing is safe in the hands of an up-and-coming crop of sincere, authentic, and talented young artists. Over the years the Quebe’s have showcased their savvy on The Marty Stuart Show, The Grand Ole Opry, been on tour with Asleep At The Wheel, and have appeared on stage with Merle Haggard and Ricky Skaggs to name a few. As soon as their voices crack the air, you’re immediately transported back to a time when the heart and soul of country music was alive and pure.
Other singing sister groups: The Staves, The Shook Twins…
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
The comments at the concert beginning a Dixie Chicks world tour sparked off possibly the biggest black balling in the history of American music. Spoken 10 days before the beginning of the Iraq War, the backlash took the Dixie Chicks from the biggest concert draw in country music to relative obscurity in country music in a matter of weeks.
Despite numerous clarifications and apologies from Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks, a full on boycott of their music was called for by pro-Bush, pro-war, and pro-American groups. Their single “Landslide” went from #10 on the Billboard charts, to #44 in 1 week, and the next week fell off the charts completely. Radio stations who played any Dixie Chicks songs were immediately bombarded with phone calls and emails blasting the station and threats of boycotts if they continued. Even radio DJ’s and programmers who sympathized with the Dixie Chicks were forced to stop playing them from the simple logistics nightmare the boycott created. Some DJ’s who played the Dixie Chicks were fired.
Dixie Chicks CD’s were rounded up, and in one famous incident were run over by a bulldozer. Concerts were canceled in the US as the Dixie Chicks couldn’t sell tickets, and rival concerts were set up that would take Dixie Chicks tickets in exchange. The Dixie Chicks lost their sponsor Lipton, and The Red Cross denied a million dollar endorsement from the band, fearing it would draw the ire of the boycott. The Dixie Chicks also received hundreds of death threats from the incident.
The boycott eventually lead to the virtual demise of the band. They went on hiatus in 2008, though their bounce back album in 2006 produced by Rick Rubin called Taking The Long Way went gold in its first week, debuting at #1 on the Billboard country charts despite absolutely no radio play.
Perspective on the Demise of the Dixie Chicks 10 Years After
Whether anyone wants to look at what the Dixie Chicks comments as right, wrong, poorly timed, or misplaced being said on foreign soil, it is hard to not see 10 years after the hypocrisy of how the Dixie Chicks were handled by the country music community. At the same time Natalie Maines made her comments, Willie Nelson was also openly criticizing the war, but taking it to another level by floating the idea that 9/11 was a potential governmental conspiracy perpetuated by the Bush Administration to drum up public support for war in Iraq. Merle Haggard released an anti-war song in the summer of 2003 called “America First” with little to no backlash. And then there is the idea that whether you agree with Natalie Maines or not, her right to speak her mind is guaranteed by The First Amendment, one of the things President George W. Bush pointed out himself when responding to the controversy in April 2003:
The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say…They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out. Freedom is a two-way street. I don’t really care what the Dixie Chicks said. I want to do what I think is right for the American people, and if some singers or Hollywood stars feel like speaking out, that’s fine. That’s the great thing about America. It stands in stark contrast to Iraq.
As President Bush points out, the people boycotting the Dixie Chicks were also exercising their rights to freedom of speech. The controversy also created positive sentiment and appeal for The Dixie Chicks that it wasn’t there before. Their album Taking The Long Way won 2007 Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year; something that was likely not possible without the sentimental vote by the greater recording industry. Outlets like NPR who would have never touched the Dixie Chicks’ music before the boycott began playing them in regular rotation. Taking The Long Way went 5 times platinum eventually, partially on the support of people who sympathized with the Dixie Chicks politically.
How The Death of the Dixie Chicks Changed The Music
Possibly the most untold story of the Dixie Chicks’ saga is the sonic repercussions the boycott and eventual demise of the band has had on country music. The Dixie Chicks were a traditional country band, especially by today’s perspective. They wrote most of their own songs, played traditional acoustic instruments like fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and featured 3 part harmonies. The Dixie Chicks benefited greatly from the resurgence in interest in American roots music and bluegrass spurned by the release of the movie O Brother Where Art Thou in 2000. The Dixie Chicks were helping to usher in a more acoustic, more traditional era in country music, and were the biggest-drawing, best-selling artists in country music at the time; the biggest thing since Garth Brooks in country, and one of the biggest acts in all of American Music.
Meanwhile the opposition to the Dixie Chicks and the person at the opposite end of the political and sonic spectrum was Oklahoma’s Toby Keith. He symbolized the loud, electric, arena rock approach to country music that could be argued is still heavily in place in country music today. Toby positioned himself as the antithesis of the Dixie Chicks, and ended up becoming the best-selling artist in country in the 2000′s decade. Toby’s flashy, rock-style arena show thrived while the Dixie Chicks’ stripped down, acoustic approach dwindled back into obscurity in mainstream country. When you see bands today like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and The Avett Brothers, you see that the stripped-down, acoustic approach to music is still relevant, if not the most relevant approach today in popular music. But it’s had to move outside of the country music fold to find a present-day outlet.
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Reflecting back on the Dixie Chicks and the public fallout, it is hard to not see that the country music community’s reaction was unmeasured, unfair, and overall, unhealthy for its future. Country music not only black balled a band that was offering sonic leadership to the genre on how to move forward while still respecting the roots of the music and remaining commercially viable, they lost one of the genre’s greatest economic engines, and may have long-term fumbled their ability to benefit from the universally-relevant appeal of acoustic roots music.
But most unfortunately, the event leaves country music with a black eye as a genre who can’t respect artists regardless of their beliefs. This typecasting of the country music fan as a closed-minded, politically-intolerant animal is a legacy it will take country music a long time to shake. Much longer than 10 years.
2013 is already shaping up to be an excellent year for real country music, with some of the heavy hitters slating new releases before we even hit Easter. Just announced, Dale Watson and his Lone Stars have a brand new album titled El Rancho Azul to be released January 29th through Red House Records, featured 14 original songs and being touted as his “honkiest tonkiest” album yet of his 21-album career.
Recorded at Willie Nelson’s legendary Pedernales Studio in Austin, Dale used his own band of Chris Crepps on upright bass, Mike Bernal on drums, Don “Don Don” Pawlak on pedal steel, with Danny Levin sitting in on piano and fiddle.
Originally it was announced that the album would be titled I Lie When I Drink (the opening track) when the first single from the album “Daughter’s Wedding Song” was released in late August of 2012. “I’m often asked to recommend a song for the father/daughter dance,” Dale says. “I usually say Merle Haggard’s ‘Farmers Daughter.’ The only problem is that, in the song, the mother is gone. So one day I told this couple I would write one special for the dance. While writing, I drew on my two daughters for inspiration and started crying halfway through it. I figured if it hit my heart strings, maybe it’ll hit the heart strings of fathers and daughters everywhere.”
The recently-divorced Dale takes the listener on a journey through love and heartache in El Rancho Azul. As you can expect with Dale spending most of his time entertaining Texas two-steppers in Austin’s dancehall haunts like The Broken Spoke, the album includes some songs written specifically for dancing. “Quick Quick Slow Slow” is a two-step tune, while the following “Quick Slow Slow” is a waltz.
|1. I Lie When I Drink|
|2. Where Do You Want It|
|3. I Drink to Remember|
|4. Cowboy Boots|
|5. We’re Gonna Get Married|
|6. Daughter’s Wedding Song|
|7. Quick Quick Slow Slow|
|8. Slow Quick Quick|
|9. Give Me More Kisses|
|10. Drink Drink Drink|
|11. I Can’t Be Satisfied|
|12. I Hate to Drink Alone|
|13. Smokey Old Bar|
|14. Thanks to Tequila|
These are never easy decisions to make, and it’s at about this time every year when I wonder why I pressure myself into making them. This year’s crop of nominees for Song of the Year seemed especially strong; songs that will go on to be marquee songs in each of the nominee’s legacies.
If I were to base the winner simply on importance, it would have gone to Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” that stubbornly refuses to leave the mainstream country music charts despite its progressive message. If I based it on being the best pure country song, it would have gone to Eric Strickland’s “Drinking Whiskey.” If I based it on the song I personally liked the most, it would have been Olds Sleeper’s “Bigsky/Flatland.” Tom Vandenavond’s “Wreck of a Fine Man” probably told the best story, and “Good Lord, Lorrie” made The Turnpike Troubadours a legitimate, full-time band that has made it. And the only way I can not justify giving the award outright to Sturgill Simpson is because “Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean” will likely appear on a new album next year, allowing it to be considered again.
All these songs were so equally matched, I chose to let the commenters help decide this one significantly, and that is the first reason the award is going to Billy Don Burns, and his masterpiece “Stranger.” The second reason is since all of these songs are so well-written, it would have been impossible to order them by this attribute alone so I had to start looking at other factors. Where “Stranger” rose above the competition was in the production of the song, and the performance by Billy Don Burns.
“Production” is considered a bad word to some in music, and what’s funny about the production of “Stranger” is that it’s almost outmoded in its approach. It’s certainly not modern, but it’s really not classic either. It works in these strange, late 80′s, early 90′s textures, with lots of space, color, and warmth. It evokes the epicness of anthemic songs from that period like Willie Nelson’s “Pancho & Lefty” or The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman” that a short while ago may have felt hokey, but now harkens back to the last era when you could still hear the overlords of the genre come through your radio. The production is both heavy handed and astonishingly lacking and laid back at the same time. Serious accolades are due Aaron David Rodgers who produced “Stranger” and the parent album Night’s When I’m Sober.
Billy Don Burns is a writer first, but he sings the hell out of this song by structuring it around his vocal strengths. Instead of appreciating his voice for conventional notions of beauty, you appreciate it for its raspy, strained, and torn nature. Instead of singing louder or harder when Billy Don wants to create emphasis in “Stranger,” he counter-intuitively sings softer, or even talks, with the quieter he gets, the more you listen, and the greater impact the words have. Parallel to the story “Stranger” coveys, the song doesn’t rise like most, it falls. In moments Billy barely eeks the words out of his rusted pipes like they are the words of a dying breath, marrying the depth of meaning and story behind the expressions to the sounds he makes, while the music bends and sometimes drops out entirely to compliment the experience of listening to a story that is both tragic in nature, and hauntingly universal.
This song is about losing yourself, which we’ve all done, and will all do again, and how we all start off life with a firm grasp on who we are that life does its level best to wrestle away from us. But inside “Stranger” there is also a glimmer of hope in how the realization of one’s self can stimulate renewal. And above all of that, the beauty of “Stranger” is its fierce simplicity–the attribute of all excellent country songs.
Billy Don Burns seems like one of these artists whose opportunity for a serious, lucrative career in music is unjustly fleeting, but his chance at a long-term legacy in music seems all but inevitable from all of the songs he written, the albums he’s produced, and all the friends he has made over the years. For a long time folks had been trying to get my attention about Billy Don, and the timing apparently just wasn’t right. Whitey Morgan once told me he would never put out an album without a Billy Don song on it. Brigitte London told me he was one of the best songwriter she’d ever met. I poked around and found he’d written songs for Willie Nelson, and produced albums from Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck.
But what Billy Don needed was a new album to breathe new life into his musical quest; to bring a new generation of ears to his music. And on the year of the release of this song and his album Nights When I’m Sober through Rusty Knuckles Records, it would have been a desecration of the Saving Country Music seal to not use the opportunity to shine however puny of a spotlight this website wields on what in my opinion might be the artist who is suffering from the greatest discrepancy between remarkable accomplishment and paltry recognition in country music.
Billy Don Burns’ song “Stranger” proves why it is such a travesty that his name and legacy are such strangers to the modern country ear. It’s imperative on all of us to fix that.
Don Maddox, the last surviving member of the wildly-influential Maddox Brothers & Rose, will be recognized in his hometown of Ashland, Oregon for his 90th birthday at the Don Maddox Birthday Celebration on Saturday, December 8th.
Don Maddox moved to Ashland, OR from California in the late 50′s after The Maddox Brothers & Rose disbanded, and bought a 300-acre cattle ranch where he’s been “hibernating” (in his words) from the music business for the last 54 years. Don still works and lives on the remaining 80-acre parcel, where one of Ashland’s landmarks, Don’s “Maddox Revolution Angus” barn sits prominently on a hillside on the east side of town.
The Maddox Brothers & Rose are one of the most influential bands in the history of American music. Don and his family migrated from Alabama in 1933 during the Depression to California, and became the first band to formulate what would later become known as the California country, West Coast, or Bakersfield Sound. They were called “The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” and played shows with folks as far ranging as Ernest Tubb and Elvis Presley.
It is said that Elvis when playing a show with The Maddox Family in Beaumont, TX was inspired by The Maddox Brothers’ colorful uniforms and adopted the fashion style himself. The Maddox Brothers and Rose were there at the beginning of the formation of country, rockabilly, and rock and roll music, and are given credit for influencing them all equally.
Don Maddox has been enjoying a major resurgence in his musical career thanks to the re-popularization of the music of Maddox Brothers & Rose, and his own music he’s been releasing on his record label “Revolution Records”. Don and The Maddox Brothers and Rose are heavily featured in a brand new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN showcasing the Bakersfield Sound from California that Don and the Maddox Brothers were seminal in creating.
When Merle Haggard was asked to be part of the opening ceremony for the Bakersfield Sound exhibit, he said, “If you don’t have Don Maddox out here for this, you may as well not have it at all.” During Don’s trip to Nashville for the opening of the exhibit, he was also invited on to the Grand Ole Opry where he received two standing ovations. He also has headlined the Muddy Roots Festival in Tennessee the last two years.
Don Maddox’s 90th Birthday Celebration will feature performances by the Oregon Old Time Fiddlers, Sage Meadows and her band High Country, Don Maddox himself, and the legendary Ashland bluegrass group Siskiyou Summit, who was the backing band Don’s sister Rose Maddox for many years. Rose, who passed away in 1998, is buried in Ashland, as are all the members of Maddox Brothers & Rose.
Don Maddox’s 90th Birthday Celebration will be from 2 to 6 PM, December 8th at the Ashland Community Center, located just across from Lithia Park at 59 Winburn Way, Ashland, OR 97520. Don’s actual birthday is Pearl Harbor day, December 7th.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.donmaddox.weebly.com.
Presentation to the Ashland, OR City Council at part of the Don Maddox 90th Birthday Celebration:
Don Maddox on the Marty Stuart Show:
About this time every four years the political rhetoric reaches critical mass as TV, radio, and the internet are permeated with political ads, while your personal social network feed is filled with political memes and other such oversimplifications of issues we’ve been fighting to resolve for decades.
One of the beautiful things about music is it’s ability to unify us under the universal appeal of rhythm. That’s why I’m usually turned off by political music, because it evokes the very things you reach out to music to escape from. If a song can’t say it subtly, then it might as well not say it at all.
In that spirit, here are some apolitical, or anti-political songs to help survive the political season.
Leroy Virgil (Hellbound Glory) – What’s This World Coming To (If It Ain’t Coming To An End)
“Well now all them corporate Christians, and the goddamn Democrats, and them blood-sucking Republicans, they aught to all get off our backs. And I’ll say it again. I’ll never trust no government. ‘Cause what’s this old world coming it, if it ain’t coming to an end.”
“Crashing planes and Saddam Hussein and ever since them towers fell. If we ain’t fighting with the whole damn world we’re fighting with ourselves.”
By being an equal opportunity offender and focusing in on how the polarization of the country is causing more problems than the respective sides are trying to fix, Leroy finds some genius through the power of simple perspective while communicating the fear we all have that the divisiveness is dragging us all down, regardless of our political stripes. (unreleased)
(recorded at the house of .357 String Band’s Derek Dunn)
Merle Haggard – Rainbow Stew
“When they find out how to burn water, and the gasoline car is gone. When an airplane flies without ay fuel and the sunlight heats our home. When the President goes through the White House door, and does what he says he’ll do, well I’ll be drinkin’ that free bubble-up, and eating that rainbow stew.”
From a man who was well-known for his flag-waving anthems early in his career, here came this strange, obtuse, but nonetheless brilliant song off his 1981 Rainbow Stew Live At Anaheim Stadium album. Merle makes you read between the lines, and seems to be challenging the ideas of a utopian society while at the same time praying for them. Or as one person put it, “It refers to stubbornly having a positive outlook in the face of great adversity.” Is it using sarcasm to knock environmentalism, or promoting it? “Rainbow Stew” is like a chameleon, shaping it’s colors to the character of the individual listener, making it mean whatever you want it to mean. I’ve always thought it was Merle’s greatest song.
Chris Knight – Nothing On Me
“And their layin’ ‘em off down at Kankakee, and there’s boards on the windows up and down the street. And they’re saying that it’s gonna get darker before the dawn. But you can bet your ass I’ll keep the lights on, keep my babies fed and throw a dog a bone. ‘Cause I’m a bring it on, git ‘er done, don’t run S.O.B. Times are tough, but they ain’t got nothing on me.”
While the world is busy pointing fingers, Chris Knight is busy writing poignant songs preaching about the virtue of self-preservation and self-reliance and looking at tough times and laughing. His latest album Little Victories has a few good songs like this and is a political album done right.
Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Centreville
“If your ears are bleeding it just me and the boys, we’re over-educated and we’re underemployed.”
“We’re low down and pitiful, we’re broke down in Centreville, we got to rock on.”
“On the banks, the (??? – citation needed), the President or the press, lay the blame on every damn thing but yourself.”
This is about as rocking as Lee Bains and the Glory Fires get, and they get apolitical on your ass by finding character and pride in their own pathetic state of affairs as opposed to pointing the menacing finger of blame towards others in a refreshing and wise sense of perspective.
How important was Hank Cochran as a songwriter? I’ll let Willie Nelson tell you.
Well, really, when you start talking about songwriters, you’ve got to say his name first. Then you start talking about everyone else.
Jamey Johnson’s Living For a Song is a tribute to his musical hero; a man he met in 2008 when Cochran was already suffering from pancreatic cancer. Johnson would visit Cochran regularly in the hospital, and according to Hank’s widow Suzy, “Jamey was there when a lot of people weren’t coming around.” Hank Cochran died on July 15th, 2010. Cochran’s death is said to inspire this project.
I’ve always had great respect for Jamey Johnson the man, and his dedication and desire to see this project through elevates him yet another notch. It’s hard not to regard him as one of the most sincere and authentic men in country music today, and the hope is that this project will elevate the name recognition of one of country’s greatest songwriters.
And you will find no more critically-acclaimed performer in country music at the moment, or in the last half-decade than Jamey Johnson. And though I appreciate Jamey the person and his honest, traditional approach to the music, in both the recorded and live context, I’ve found his music to be fundamentally lacking energy, enthusiasm, or the ability to engage the ear in virtually any manner. And unfortunately, Living for a Song falls into that same category.
This is what I don’t get about this album: We are sold this idea that Jamey Johnson is the best songwriter of our generation. But here it is over two years after his last album release, and this superlative, prolific songwriter is putting out an album of someone elses songs. Granted, his last album The Guitar Song was a double album, but like I pointed out when the The Guitar Song was released, there was a curious amount of covers and co-writes there as well.
I understand this is a tribute album, but most tribute albums are side projects; something you do outside of your normal album cycle as an artist. Living for a Song however is Jamey Johnson’s newest major release in his country music career. Can anybody tell me what other hits or critically-acclaimed songs Jamey Johnson has written for other artists since The Guitar Song’s release? What I’m getting at here is I think our generation’s best and most-prolific songwriter is in the midst of a multi-year writers block. That’s the only explanation I can come up for releasing this album as his sole recorded contribution to music in the last two years, aside from some guest spots.
What is Jamey Johnson known as? As a performer? As a singer? No. He might be capable at these two tasks, but he’s known primarily as a songwriter. So how am I supposed to get excited about him singing songs written and popularized by someone else? Do we really think he can sing “I Fall To Pieces” better than Patsy Cline? Is what we really need in a demonstratively-glutted music world milder versions of songs we’ve already heard?
And for all the Jamey Johnson fans who sell him as the solution to how to get folks re-engaged with traditional country, how does this album do the trick? Are any of these songs radio singles that can compete with Taylor Swift? They’re songs that will make the kiddos put their hands over their mouths in the universal sign of sleepy time. Jamey Johnson is like the country music sedative. His super power is the ability to make any country music song boring. He’s the exact reason fans of Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford say country needs to evolve. And in this instance, they are right.
What is the cliche about good cover songs? That the covering artist “made it their own.” At no time on Living for a Song does it feel like Jamey Johnson makes a song his own. Granted, these songs are country. They’re very country. They’re so country, they’re cliche. But just because something is country doesn’t mean it’s good. As I have said about other Jamey Johnson projects, I believe that people are so used to hearing country that doesn’t sound like country, when someone actually plays country music they’re charmed into thinking it’s superb.
If this was a side project cover album, such criticism may not be appropriate. But this album is being so ballyhooed by critics all over the place that it creates the need for a little perspective. Even when looking at Living for a Song as a tribute and a tribute only, the album feels way too busy. It makes the same mistake Willie Nelson’s last album Heroes does of having too many guests. And may I point out that both albums were produced by Buddy Cannon. Like I said about Heroes:
Where the album may come across as too busy or unfocused is the amount of contributors to each composition, and to the album as a whole…Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance.
It’s difficult to focus on Hank Cochran’s songwriting–the purpose of this album–because the people singing switch back and forth so often. Every song but one is a duet, and one song has three singers, one four singers, and one five. Some songs feel mere steps away from “We are the World”.
Willie, Merle, Emmylou, Kristofferson, Bobby Bare and others, these are all great names and I don’t doubt for a second the love for Hank Cochran all the Living for a Song contributors have. But the music is diminished by the sheer number of contributions. For Jamey, this may be a sincere tribute, but to the label, it feels similar to the Hank Williams Lost Notebooks project, like an excuse to showcase talent and shovel money towards Sony/ATV who owns the publishing on these songs.
Aside from the excessive singing parts, there’s nothing wrong with this album. But there’s nothing right either. All the musicians and singers do excellent jobs. The issue is with the approach.
God bless Jamey Johnson for putting together a heartfelt tribute to a country great that has passed on. But Living for a Song is about as lifeless as traditional country music gets. If you want to listen to a great classic country album released in 2012, listen to Don Williams’ And So It Goes. It resides in the same tempo, but brings a uniqueness and a soul that Living for a Song lacks. Or even better, go listen to Hank Cochran’s originals, or the original songs others made hits. These do a better job at selling Cochran’s legacy than this.
If Jamey Johnson wasn’t sold to us so hard, I might begin to appreciate his music on some level. But shoot me that I like my pulse raised when I put on an album.
1 gun up for a beautiful tribute to a fallen country great.
1 gun down for an album that is too busy, overproduced, and downright boring.
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The Shivering Denizens and frontman Ron E. Banner epitomize gonzo-style West Coast country. The alternative rag in their local port of Seattle felt compelled to compare them to a dumbed down version of the Drive By Truckers, when the answer to the Denizens’ music lineage could be found right under Seattle Weekly’s Starbucks-stained noses. Just like fellow Seattle-based punk gone country group The Supersuckers, The Shivering Denizens serve up a fun, sarcasm-laden version of country that refuses to take itself too seriously.
Not as salacious as Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies, and more solidly country than what the Supersuckers usually serve up during their “country” set, The Shivering Denizens are like Ken Kesey meets Merle Haggard.
That is why I was a little leery at first to hear their new album was somewhat “conceptualized.” Concept albums are better suited for space jams and serious forays into the depths of the human soul than sarcasm. Baker-Whiteley was a small, coal-mining town in Pennsylvania, now a ghost town where Ron E. Banner’s roots trace back. His grandfather settled there as a Hungarian immigrant, and this album plays out as a story of America through the evolution of Banner’s family over the years. Luckily though, it is still tinged with that dark, Shivering Denizen sense of humor we’re used to from their previous works.
Baker-Whiteley doesn’t set any new land speed records and probably requires a disposition to like underground-style country to get into, but the concept is true and is carried through with some good songs. The theme is the decay of the agrarian lifestyle in America.
This album starts off telling the story of papa Banner making his way from Ellis Island to the Baker-Whiteley coal mines and partaking in the local Allegheny moonshine. This is tied into the modern-day homemade innebriant of choice of methamphetamine during the next song, “Hartwood Train”. “Double Shot” goes from the fields to the factories and the fibrosis of the liver that usually follows, with Ron E. pulling out his best lyrical hook in the album, turning the self-loathing line “poor me” into the ordering of booze.
Not all the songs fit comfortably into the Baker-Whiteley concept, but still tie in to the loss of values and sanity, like the song “Richard Ramirez” that explores the rock star fascination America has with serial killers. “She’s Not On The Menu” is complete silliness, but seems to work positioned late in the album where you’re caught off guard by the overt raunchiness.
Similar to other artists like Bob Wayne, Eddie Spaghetti, and the Supersuckers, sometimes when they do decide to get serious, it’s hard to re-adjust your perspective. “The Whistler” is about the simple beauty of hard work, faith, and farm life. The message of “Angel’s Last Waltz” is a little hard to gather, but seems to center somewhere around the loss of religious values. These songs are worth not overlooking.
Baker-Whiteley is a really well-made album with diverse and solid instrumentation including piano, accordion, and female harmony singing. Whatever the songs called for, the Denizens made sure to procure. The wild nature of their music depends a lot on their use of harmonies, background vocals, and the way they’re arranged.
As curious as it may seem to some, The Shivering Denizens, along with many other Pacific Northwest-based country bands prove again just what a modern-day proving ground the top left corner of the country is for the roots.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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I’m not sure if I can come up with a more touching country music story in 2012 than that of Don Maddox. Think about it, 90-year-old man whose spent the last 54 years in virtual obscurity from the music world makes headlines by receiving standing ovations at the Grand Ole Opry and is featured at the Country Music Hall of Fame along with the rest of his family as part of the Bakersfield Sound exhibit. The last surviving member of the Maddox Brothers and Rose has been paling around with Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart, and “Little” Jimmy Dickens while being one of the headliners of the Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, TN over Labor Day weekend.
As the fiddle player and comedian “Don Juan” (his stage name), his brothers and sister Rose were seminal in creating not only the sounds of country music, but rockabilly and rock n’ roll as well. As Depression-era refugees, they moved from Alabama to California when the siblings were still young, and sick of trying to make it as laborers, decided to form a band that is mentioned by people like Merle Haggard as one of the most important and influential bands during the 30′s through the 50′s. Unlike other bands of that time, the Maddox Brothers and Rose mixed boogie woogie in with hillbilly music, making them one of the first rockabilly bands.
Earlier in the summer I spent a day at the Maddox Revolution Ranch in Ashland, OR with Don and his wife Barbara as part of writing a feature on country’s “oldest, newest singing sensation” (as Don like to call himself), and here is the full content of my hour-long interview with him. In the interview he talks about how Maddox Brothers and Rose may have influenced the style of Elvis, his adventures surrounding the Bakersfield Sound exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, and how he became a rancher and the pillar of the Maddox family post-music. It is much more entertaining to listen to because Don is such a funny, entertaining guy, but I have also transcribed the meat of the conversation below, and included some interesting pictures.
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Trigger: So you were born on December 7th, 1922.
Don Maddox: There was two disasters happened on December 7th. One was Pearl Harbor, and I was born (laughing).
Trigger: Lately you’ve had a resurgence in your career. You played the Muddy Roots Festival last year out in Cookeville, TN. And then this year, the Country Music Hall of Fame opened up a brand new exhibit highlighting the Bakersfield Sound and California Country, which the Maddox Brothers and Rose were seminal to.
Don Maddox: And besides that, while I was back there (Nashville) for the Bakersfield country music exhibit, I was on the Grand Ole Opry! Who ever thought I’d be on the Grand Ole Opry? I didn’t.
Trigger: Were you on the Grand Ole Opry originally with the Maddox Brothers and Rose?
Don Maddox: No. We started recording in 1946, and then in 1947 we got a guest spot on the Grand Ole Opry, and then in 1949 we had a guest spot on the Grand Ole Opry. But this time I was on the Grand Ole Opry in my own name right as Don Maddox with Marty Stuart, and I got a standing ovation! I didn’t think anybody had ever heard of the Maddox Brothers and Rose. It blew my mind.
Trigger: It’s because there’s been a resurgence in The Maddox Brothers and Rose and when you go back and listen to the music it makes sense because it’s timeless. It’s so important to so many different elements of American music. It’s easy to pigeon hole you into country music. But when you started off, you didn’t call yourself country music, did you?
Don Maddox: Three of my brothers and Rose started before I came along. I was only about 13 at that time; 1935 or so. And then about 1940, I joined the band. At that time, it wasn’t called country or Western, it was called hillbilly music. And then about 1950 or something, hillbilly wasn’t going over too well, that’s when the pop artists came in. And now, the so-called hillbilly country music has transformed into pop country. But when we were hot it was just straight hillbilly music. Then rockabilly came in about 1950. I hear that Maddox Brothers and Rose were instrumental in creating the rockabilly sound. I didn’t know we were, but I did a song on the stage at that time, I was spoofing rockabilly. I did Ray Charles’ song “I’ve Got A Woman” except I parodied it and changed it into a comedy thing called “The Death of Rock & Roll”. It never got played here much in the United States, but I hear it was a big hit in Europe.
Trigger: So you were big in creating rockabilly because unlike some other hillbilly bands, you would add some elements of boogie woogie in there. It wasn’t even called rock & roll at that point, it was called boogie woogie, and mixing the two was rockabilly. And your brother Fred was one of the first guys to create the slap style of playing bass.
Don Maddox: The reason he did a slap bass is because he didn’t know how to play the bass, and all he was doing was playing rhythm anyhow, but he didn’t know the notes so he’d just slap the bass for the rhythm part and everybody thought he put on a great show and thought he was the best bass player there was.
Trigger: Tell me about the experience of going out to this new Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit. I read a quote from Merle Haggard saying that if you don’t have The Maddox Brothers as part of this exhibit, then you may as well not have it, or something like that. How did it feel to be out there and realize just how much influence y’all had to the formation of American music?
Don Maddox: Speaking of Merle Haggard, I’ve read his autobiography, and the first time he saw the Maddox Brothers and Rose he was only about 12-years-old, and we were playing at a dance in Bakersfield, CA. Somebody told him we had the best guitar player in the world, and he (Merle) wanted to be a guitar player. The guitar player we had was Roy Nichols. Merle went down there to see Roy Nichols but he happened to see us too. We got to know him better in later years, and Fred and Rose worked with him after Maddox Brothers and Rose broke up.
But I’ve been out of the entertainment business for 50 years. I’ve been hibernating here in Ashland (Oregon), and nobody here either knew or cared that I was Don Maddox of the Maddox Brothers and Rose. Well we flew back (to Nashville for the HOF opening), got me on the Grand Ole Opry, and the guy that met us at the airport was from the Hall of Fame, and the first words he says to me was, “Did you hear what Merle Haggard said about you?” And I said, “No.” and he said that Merle Haggard said, “If you don’t get Don Maddox back here for this exhibit, you might as well not have it at all.” And then every person that I saw that was associated with the museum after that would say, “Did you hear what Merle Haggard said about you?” It just blowed my mind, I couldn’t believe it.
Trigger: So at the Country Music Hall of Fame, they have a whole section dedicated to The Maddox Brothers and Rose as part of the Bakersfield Sound exhibit.
Don Maddox: They’ve got a whole exhibit, showing our uniforms and pictures. They’ve got Cal’s guitar in there. Marty Stuart, he owns all of the Maddox Brothers and Rose’s colorful uniforms that we wore because he collects uniforms like that. He was out here playing a fair last year, and I had a couple of boots I made special for me in 1950, and I had wore them out. They cost $50 a pair. They were 60-years-old at this time and I sold them to him for $100 a pair, and when I went back for the exhibit, there were my boots sitting out there right in front.
Trigger: I just learned something about your role in the band. I knew you played the fiddle, but you say you were the comedian in the band which makes perfect sense. When I saw you perform live, and just sitting down here, you’re a very funny guy. So that was part of your role in the band, you we’re the comedian. How did that come about?
Don Maddox: Well I’m shy and introverted (laughing). And when you read about other comedians, they’ll say they’re shy and introverted, unless they’re “turned on.” But I am shy and introverted, and that’s the only way I could get attention was to make the people laugh, and over a period of time of doing that, I got pretty good at it.
Trigger: I heard that Elvis opened for y’all back in the day.
Don Maddox: Well, he didn’t open for us, we were playing a show in Beaumont, TX. It was a package show with us, Elvis, Slim Whitman, and some others at the auditorium. And we had on our fancy outfits, the ones with the bell bottoms on them, and all the flowers and all that stuff. Elivs was just coming on the scene at that time. It was just him and the two guys that played with him and they came in with their street clothes on. That’s all they had back then. It was pretty hot in Beaumont at that time, so we took off our fancy jackets and hung them up backstage. And when we came off stage and went back there to get our jackets, Elvis had on one of our fancy jackets and was parading around backstage. And when Mama saw Elvis wearing our jacket, she made him take it off. And he said, “One of these days I’m gonna get me a fancy outfit like this.”
Trigger: And when you say “Mama” are you taking about Rose?
Don Maddox: No, I’m talking about the mother. Mother was the ram rod of The Maddox Brothers and Rose. She was the one that kept us together, and she was the boss, we were just the kids. We were just a family, and no matter how old we got, we were still just the kids. I was 37-years-old when I was forced out on my own when Mama, Rose, and Cal went back to Nashville. They left me sitting there on my own, I’d never done anything for myself in my life.
Trigger: In Ashland, OR, you have a barn that says, “Maddox Revolutionary Angus” on your ranch. It’s such a bold statement to call your angus “revolutionary.” What brought you to Ashland? How did you end up a rancher?
Don Maddox: The band broke up in 1955. We had reached a plateau. The only income we had was from personal appearances, and we had played so many places so many times, the crowds began to taper off. And Rose decided she was actually the star, and she decided she could make as much money as the whole band got and had to split it 5 ways. So she decided to take off on her own, and she got in touch with Nashville and The Grand Ole Opry with just her and my brother (Cal) going with her to play guitar. And they left me, and my brothers Fred in Henry sitting there in Hollywood, and none of us was good enough to play with another band. We were good enough for Maddox Brothers and Rose, but not good enough to play with other bands.
So there I was sitting there in Hollywood with all the money going out and none of it coming in, and I had always wanted to be a cowboy, a range rider. I didn’t know anything about cows or anything like that, so they had a college of agriculture in the San Fernando Valley, and I only lived 10 miles from that. So I decided I would enroll in that college of agriculture and get some book learning. I never even went to high school, much less got a diploma. I was 37-years-old at this time. After I had my goal set, which is where I’m at, sitting here on the ranch in Ashland, OR, all the ways and means just presented themselves.
I was looking in trade magazines for cattle and a ranch and I saw one advertised in Ashland, OR for $35,000. 300-acres, some irrigated, with a house on it. Actually I wanted to go to the Napa Valley, but there was nothing there I could afford. I’d just bought me a 1957 pink Cadillac and I’d driven it up here. I didn’t have much use for a pink Cadillac on a ranch, I needed a pickup truck. So I tried to trade him my pink Cadillac as a down payment on the place, but he didn’t have any use for a pink Cadillac either, but he said he would knock off the real estate commission, and I could have it for $27,500. That was a lot of money at that time, but you couldn’t buy an acre of this land now for $100,000. So here I am, I’ve been working the place for 54 years, and nobody recognized me as a famous country music singer until now.
Trigger: Is this still a working ranch?
Don Maddox: Yes. I sold my cattle and I’m leasing the ranch out now, but I’ve been working the ranch up until now, but I’m getting to where I can’t do the work.
Trigger: But now the music is coming back.
Don Maddox: This is my golden years. I heard about the golden years when I was a younger man and thought, “Yeah right.” But since I’ve been in the golden years, I’ve got a new thing of my own, I’ve been on the Grand Ole Opry as myself, I’m in the Hall of Fame back there. This is the golden years for me.
And how I got the Revolution thing, when I went into the cattle business I was raising registered Angus cattle. So I went to a bull sale in Reno and bought the grand champion bull up there, about 1970. They had this bull that I really wanted, and his name was Ben Bond Revolution #73. I waited until everyone had stopped bidding, and then I started bidding, and there was a guy who wanted him as bad as I did. I bid him up to $10,000 and he wouldn’t bid more than that because $10,000 was his limit. I latched on to that “Revolution” and I was gonna revolutionize the cattle industry with that “Revolution” bull, and I named my ranch “Maddox Revolution Angus Ranch.” And I kept that bull for two years and he gave me some good calves, and then he went sterile on me! And I had to sell him at hamburger prices at 25 cents a pound. So I didn’t revolutionize the cattle industry because nobody would join my revolution.
Trigger: Rose lived in Ashland too, so Ashland kind of became the home of Maddox Brothers and Rose post your heyday. We’re you the one that brought the family up here?
Don Maddox: Well I bought the ranch, and Rose and Cal had gone back to Nashville for a year, and things didn’t work out for them in Nashville. So I sold them 5 acres of my ranch, and they built a house there. So Mama (mother Maddox), Rose, and Cal lived there together all their lives. Rose’s son, he had a family, and when mom and Cal died, Rose’s son and his wife and kids moved in with Rose and wrecked the house and all of that good stuff. Then Rose was in bad health and fell on bad financial circumstances. She borrowed some money on the house and couldn’t pay it back. So in order to help her out, I bought the house from her, and then I gave her a lifetime estate so she could live there the rest of her life like she owned the place. And then my brother Henry, he went out on his own to play music, and he couldn’t make it on his own, so he moved up here then. And then he got kidney failure, and he was broke so he moved in there in the house with Rose.
Trigger: So you became the rock of the Maddox Brothers and Rose family. You’re the one that took the last little bit of wealth that you had from the Maddox Brothers and Rose experience and invested it in this cattle ranch, and you kind of became the pillar of the family. You helped support them over time. This ranch supported the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and it still does.
Don Maddox: Well, when I bought the ranch, I bought it to raise cattle on. I wanted to be a cowboy. But the fringe benefits of owning the ranch have made me a wealthy person today.
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Newspaper clip about the Maddox family (name spelled wrong) pre-music days from the Country Music Hall of Fame:
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