Membership to the Grand Ole Opry is seen a one of the most prestigious accolades a country music artist can be bestowed, and the recognition is sought after by performers both big and small, mainstream and traditional because it is one of the hardest gets in music.
The Opry currently has 66 members, and as older members pass on, newer ones are recruited. In 2013, the only new addition to The Opry was old time string band Old Crow Medicine Show—one of the few traditional-leaning bands to be asked into the institution in recent memory. Before Old Crow, it was a cavalcade of mainstream pop country music stars that as Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay points out in his 2013 Year In Review are not fulfilling the Opry obligations they signed up for when they accepted their invitations.
The exact requirements to keep your Grand Ole Opry membership active have been updated and altered over the years. Original Opry members made dozens of appearances a year as a matter of course. Today, artists that have “retired” like Garth Brooks and Barbara Mandrell are not always expected to make appearances, but retain their membership, mostly because of the dues they paid prior to retiring. But some artists that have just signed on are not meeting the most minimum of Opry requirements either.
In April of 1963, The Opry implemented a rule stating that members must make at least 26 appearances on the show per year to keep their membership active. Over the years, the amount of required appearances per year has dropped, though the appearance rule is hypothetically still in effect. In 1964, Opry management dropped the amount of required performances to 20. Then in 2000, they dropped the requirement to 12. Today, Opry General Manager Pete Fisher has set a goal of 10 appearances a year by each Opry member. Members, especially popular country stars, can also receive extra appearance credits by appearing on a weekend. Friday or Saturday appearances count as 3 performances according to some accounts of the current Opry rules.
The issue with big, new artists reneging on their Opry responsibilities first came up after Blake Shelton made controversial comments about country music’s classic country fans, calling them “Old Farts & Jackasses.” Opry historian Byron Faye called for the removal of Blake from the Opry ranks, not just because of the comments, but because Blake Shelton hadn’t made a single appearance in an entire year prior to his comments in clear violation of the membership rules. Shelton only became an Opry member in September of 2010, and was already shirking his responsibilities. Subsequently, Blake Shelton did make two weekend appearances on the show, but that would still put him well below the required ten appearances, even with the extra weekend credits.
Darius Rucker was the big name to be invited to the Opry in 2012, but only made four appearances on the show in 2013. Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban were The Opry’s big additions for 2011. Though Rascal Flatts appeared a moderate seven times, including some weekend shows, Keith Urban made a total of two appearances throughout 2013. Two appearances were all recent Opry members Brad Paisley and Trace Adkins could muster as well.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are older Grand Ole Opry members who would love to make more appearances if only asked, but they are getting squeezed out by younger, and non-member performers. As Byron Fay accounts for on his blog, there were a total of 227 guest appearances on the show in 2013, and a total of 42 appearances by cast members of ABC’s TV Show Nashville that receives funding and other material support from the parent company of the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Hospitality. Guest appearances on the Opry can be a big honor for up-and-coming artists and are an important part of the Grand Ole Opry culture. But they are not meant to supplant established Opry members.
Another interesting note is that long-time Opry member Dolly Parton has been absent from the Opry stage for an extended period. Though there has been no specific word of a beef between Dolly and the Opry, a theme park deal between the two parties dissolved in 2012 when the Opry was part of a sale to Marriott in the restructuring of Gaylord Enterprises to the new Ryman Hospitality Properties.
We do know that The Grand Ole Opry is willing to drop living members, or at least they did in the past. They famously threw out Hank Williams in August of 1952 for alcoholism and missing rehearsals, and Neko Case was once banned from the institution for removing her shirt. If The Grand Ole Opry membership is going to maintain the prestige that all the members approach it with when they are asked to join the institution, the rules governing membership must be maintained both by members, and the institution.
So here it is January 3rd, the day that we were promised that everything would be revealed of why a month ago today, Eric Church’s marketing arm decided to post a psychotic and irresponsible “teaser” video for his upcoming The Outsiders album that depicted a shadowy figure in gloves obsessively watching a video of Taylor Swift explaining on the CMA Awards how it was Eric Church’s arrogant and idiotic torpedoing of a opening spot on a Rascal Flatts tour that eventually led to Taylor getting her big break in country music.
The Eric Church video was so creepy and so ripe to be misunderstood, Saving Country Music posted an expletive-laden tirade and demanded the video be taken down. Eventually it was before a public outrage could be launched, and despite many Church fans proclaiming the video as payback to Taylor Swift for calling out Eric Church on the CMA Awards, (and that it was completely justified, because you know, Eric Church isn’t part of the “in” crowd and is an “outsider”) a subsequent video explained that Eric Church “adores Taylor,” making Church’s fans have to each their own asses, while Eric Church himself back paddled harder than the Oxford University rowing team in a 4.2 mile heat race on the River Thames.
The video that Eric Church inc. posted in place of their Taylor Swift stalker video urged us all to “stay on course” and that on January 3rd “all will be revealed to you.” And as always with these dumbass teaser videos, nothing was revealed, nothing makes sense, none of the disturbing imagery from the December 3rd video is now somehow justified just because Eric Church released a new song that has nothing to do with any of it. It’s all just a bunch of marketing that distracts from the music and leaves the gawking country music fan wanting and confused, while the fact that the whole run up to Eric’s The Outsiders album is such an obvious ripoff of Shooter Jennings and how he marketed his last album The Other Life goes horrifically under reported.
But there is a new single here that needs to be dealt with called “Give Me Back My Hometown.” The song is very, very trope-like, residing deeply within the well-worn grooves of the often called-upon American music theme of the forgotten hometown and heartland decay. Is it a laundry list song, or as some like to couch it, “bro-country?” No, no it’s not. Is it a country rap? Not even close. Is it an alternative to the trash that permeates the mainstream country music airwaves? Sure it is. But before we proclaim it is something more than just another song, let’s not allow ourselves to reduce our measure of what is good simply because Music Row has deftly extended the boundary of what is positively awful into previously uncharted territory.
At the same time it is not unfair to couch “Give Me Back My Hometown” as a respite from the rest of mainstream male country. And the reason this small town theme works so often is because it resonates in a fairly universal manner, especially amongst country music fans. But the boldness of “Give Me Back My Hometown” is in the musical approach to the song. Once again Eric Church reveals himself on the progressive edge of country sonically compared to his Bon Jovi-esque and country rapping counterparts, delivering a rhythmic, banjo-driven bed that is catchy without feeling cliche, and a melody that reveals Church’s adeptness at carrying feeling in his voice into an impressively-high register.
To the mainstream country ear, “Give Me Back My Hometown” must sound nothing short of foreign and refreshing. But to an ear with a more wide sense of perspective, especially when the heavy bass drum beat and hand claps kick in about 1/3′rd of the way through the song, a strong, pungent Lumineers influence reveals itself quite obviously. A similar observation can be made of Lady Antebellum’s recent single, the banjo and clap-driven “Compass.” Once again we see a symptom of Music Row being 18 months behind the relevancy arch, and just now catching up with what was cool last year, despite feeling cutting-edge within the format.
All those observations aside though, simply based off of the ear test, “Give Me Back My Hometown” is not bad. The song works. And though with his first two singles off The Outsiders Eric seems to be focusing more on music and less on capturing the muse behind the story he wants to convey, give him credit for being willing to trod outside of popular music’s current modes, or at least mainstream country’s.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
***UPDATE*** (12-4-13 1:35 AM CST): After posting this rant at roughly 9 PM on 12/3, the Eric Church video was made “private” on YouTube at roughly 11:45 PM on 12/3. If the video was pulled and stays pulled, Saving Country Music commends Eric Church and/or his management/marketing team for making the right decision about this video. ***UPDATE***
***UPDATE*** (12-4-13 4:50 PM CST): The Eric Church camp has posted another video saying in part “Eric adores Taylor, for who she is and what she’s done.”
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In the latest installment in a series of cryptic teaser videos Eric Church has released ahead of his new album The Outsiders, Church culls footage from the recent CMA Awards, and specifically Taylor Swift’s speech accepting the Pinnacle Award in a creepy, if not downright disturbing video full of obtuse connotations and veiled threats. During her speech, Taylor Swift referenced her big break in country music that came in 2006 when Eric Church was booted off a tour with Rascal Flatts because he was playing too loud, and too long, after being repeatedly warned by concert promoters to follow the rules he signed on to when he was selected for the tour. Church was replaced by Taylor Swift.
Apparently this is either still a sore spot for Church, or simply a marketing angle for his on again/off again country music “Outlaw” image. But either way, it is the theme for the 70-second video called “One Will Rise, One Will Fall” released today.
I’ll tell you folks, and I know people are going to say that I am way over-reacting or being way too sensitive, but I think this video is despicable, sickening, and downright dangerous. I think it should be pulled from YouTube by the Eric Church camp, an apology should be issued, and if I had the arrogance to believe that I had any such power or authority to do so, I would outright demand that this video be pulled from public consumption.
I don’t give a shit what Eric Church, or anybody else thinks about Taylor Swift’s music. This isn’t about music at all. Take music out of the picture, and Taylor Swift is a 23-year-old girl who has hundreds, if not thousands of people in this celebrity-obsessed and morally-corrupt world who would wish to do all manner of harm and evil things to her; people who happen to live the same shadowy, disturbed lives that come eerily similar to the scene Eric Church portrays in this stupid ass teaser.
If you think I’m taking this too seriously, try telling that to the fans and family of Selena, Dimebag Darrell, and John Lennon. As s a society we have an imperative to protect individuals from these types of threats and images: Bulletin boards and cluttered desks with psychopathic, stalker-style tools and artifacts, and post-it notes with dark, belligerent plans peppered with threatening verbiage. Look at the title of the video, “One Will Rise, One Will Fall.” What exactly are you’re getting at here Eric Church? Because I don’t have to stretch my imagination very far to reach all manner of disturbing conclusions. Of course Eric’s threats won’t go any farther than releasing a stupid ass video, I’m no fool, but who’s to say one of his sycophantic toadies won’t? Besides, it’s the thought that counts. And what is this all for, to promote Eric Church’s shitty rock record?
Eric Church isn’t an “Outsider,” he’s a fucking conformist. He’s a marketeer with a marketing degree who has svengalied a bunch of disenfranchised country fans into believing he’s offering any type of alternative to pop country when in truth he is more of a tool of the mainstream pop country industrial complex than anyone. At least Taylor is who she is—a glittery pop star who doesn’t try to veil her marketing to the masses as anything else. “Outsiders” don’t win Album of the Year from both the CMA and ACM Awards. “Outsiders” don’t get invited to play primetime, industry events. “Outsiders” don’t score #1 songs on mainstream pop country radio. And “Outsiders” don’t piss off Rascal Flatts for playing too long, they don’t play in front of Rascal Flatts, period.
Oh poor, downtrodden Eric Church, his last album only sold 1 1/2 million copies. Now it’s time to hatch a plan to take down the superstar of the genre for revenge. What the fuck is wrong with this guy? The country music industry should kick him to the curb and spit on his album. Let Metallica drag his overplaying ass around US. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of Eric Church’s bullshit drama and acting like the world owes him. Talent or not, country music doesn’t need this asshole any longer.
Pull the video Eric.
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Leave you comment about how I’m overreacting below. And find the stupid video yourself.
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, I’ll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. We’ll see where the fuck you’re at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, “fuck you if you’re gonna rip us off like that on your first release.”
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and I’m like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: No, he’s not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture—and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, ““None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, ““They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’” (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” “‘Dierks’ has officially ripped off my song ‘In A Razor Town.’” Isbell fired off. “Dierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called ‘Home.’” Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
Country music in 2013 feels like the best of times, and the worst of times. While a few top male performers perpetrate untold atrocities on the integrity of the genre, the rise of independent music and infrastructure in the marketplace is now almost to the point where it equals its corporate counterpart. Quality songs and worthy artists are beginning to see more and more support, while current events and new outlets create avenues for substantive music to find its way to hungry ears. It is so easy to focus on the negative because it still seems to pervade the popular consciousness. But here are twelve reasons it is looking up for country music in 2013.
Yes, Kacey Musgraves. Even if you see her as some Music Row machination meant to offer an alter ego to the Taylor Swift’s of the world (Taylor equals Kacey’s noms with 6 herself), at least mainstream country is now offering a choice to consumers. What Musgraves’ symbolizes is that you don’t have to prove overwhelming commercial success to get noticed. Her biggest hit “Merry Go ‘Round” didn’t even make the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 Country Songs. Musgraves is a songwriter in a traditional sense, even if some of her best, and most-heady material didn’t make her big debut album. The reason she was able to rake up so many nominations is because of her songwriting credits, accounting for half of her CMA considerations. Kacey Musgraves’ 6 CMA nominations proves that regardless of how stupid country music’s leading males are trying to make the genre, in 2013, songs matter.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is getting dirty out there, and the more artists that speak out, the more other artists gain the courage to join the chorus. And not to shy away from the fight, Kacey Musgraves could be characterized as leading the charge, coming out multiple times to complain about where country music is headed. Alan Jackson also had some choice words recently, as did Gary Allan, Tom Petty, and most recently Zac Brown. Country music may be crossing more unfortunate lines than ever, but at least it’s genuine artists are being vocal about their dissent.
Yes, it was bad that Blake Shelton had to disrespect large segments of country music listeners when he ostensibly called them “old farts and jackasses,” but the backlash that ensued became a unifying element for disenfranchised country fans. Ray Price wrote a blistering letter to Blake Shelton, resulting in Blake having to make a public apology. Dale Watson wrote a song about the whole incident which has since become one of the most popular numbers of his show. An “Old Farts & Jackasses” group on Facebook boasts over 93,000 “likes,” and the list goes on from there. Blake Shelton awakened a beast, and gave it a rallying cry. Who would have thought in 2012 that people would be proudly calling themselves “Old Farts & Jackasses” ?!?
The days of inducting traditionally-leaning artists and bands seemed to be over with the Grand Ole Opry’s recent membership invitations to Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts. But lo and behold, the Grand Ole Opry can still get it right, inducting an act that has paid their dues many times over, and deserve to be recognized as one of the forefathers to the re-popularization of string bands that has seen the rise of bands like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers. The news is not only good for Old Crow Medicine Show, but other artists who may not be top tier names in country music, but deserve the distinction.
It’s so easy to read the headlines and see the top of the Billboard country charts and say that all is lost in the genre. But as long as Sturgill Simpson is out there touring, you can’t say country music is dead. Out on tour with Dwight Yoakam, playing the Grand Ole Opry, inspiring critics from coast to coast and overseas to sing his praises, Sturgill Simpson is giving hope for the future to country fans that has a value beyond his music specifically.
Yeah, I’m not too much for the silly cliffhanger drama-laden plot lines either, but Nashville has become an invaluable teacher of how the music business works, specifically on the songwriting side of things. An educated consumer makes better choices, and if they see and understand how backroom politics stultify the creativity and freedom of artists, and how a song goes from inspiration to the big stage, they just may make better choices, and think about where the music they enjoy comes from. Furthermore, Nashville has become a music outlet to a nationwide audience that may otherwise not be exposed to the music of independent artists like Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, Ashley Monroe, Shovels & Rope, and so many more.
There are many good, independent country bands that are enjoying a rise in interest in 2013, but there may not be a bigger rags to riches story (so to speak) than Hellbound Glory landing an opening spot on a Kid Rock arena tour. Going from playing half-empty bar rooms to sold-out arenas, Hellbound Glory is seeing the recognition their quality country music has been deserving for years. And the opportunity has been paralleled by bigger crowds and better support even after the arena tour ended.
Caitlin Rose, Valerie June, Lindi Ortega, Austin Lucas, Amanda Isbell, Cory Branan, Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, and so many more that call east Nashville home (or at least to some extent) have seen career watermarks and burgeoning interest in 2013. Forget Music Row or the circus downtown, Nashville, not Austin, is the new vibrant epicenter for independent music, and the artists there pushing and supporting each other is fostering a creative environment that regardless for how long it lasts, will be looked back upon fondly in the future as a time and place that got it right, and set the bar for artistry and substance. Add on top of that already-established and influential artists like Jack White and Dan Auerbach, and Nashville is the place to be in 2013.
“Cowboy” Jack Clement and Bobby Bare Inducted Into the Country Music Hall of Fame
Yes, two very important players in the rise of country music’s “Outlaw” movement finally got their due this year, and it was especially timely for “Cowboy” Jack Clement who would pass away only a few months after the announcement. Though there is still a long list of worthy inductees that many fans worry will never get in, these two men prove that the Outlaws will not be forgotten, and move other important country music icons one step further to being inducted themselves.
If you feel like the Outlaws of country music have not been dealt a fair deal and they need need a new institution to give them the support and recognition they deserve, your wishes were granted in 2013 when it was announced there will be a new Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, Tennessee coming soon. Nashville may have swept their legacy off the streets like common refuse, but at least somewhere the Outlaws will ride eternally.
If you desire more validation that 2013 is the “Year of the Song,” then behold the overwhelming breakout success of Jason Isbell in 2013. Bolstered by his manager Traci Thomas, a bulldog of the Thirty Tigers group, Jason Isbell is becoming the defining songwriter of our generation. If you ever wished you could go back and re-live the heyday of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt in their prime, watching Jason Isbell and his 2013 tear is the next best thing.
With radio becoming less and less accessible through every measure of consolidation by Clear Channel and Cumulus, new outlets must open up to support independent music. And they are in 2013, and sometimes in the most uncanny places. David Letterman not only has been giving his stage over to artists like Dale Watson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, Shovels & Rope, and so many more, he’s been seeking out this talent to play his show as a fan of the music. Where big network TV debuts for independent artists seemed to be a thing of the past, now they seem to be a weekly occurrence.
There’s nothing I value more than a mainstream country music record that bucks all trends and is truly worth your ear. It goes without saying that the ranks of unknown and under-appreciated artists in the independent and underground realm is where our generation’s true creativity resides, but finding improvement in what the masses are being exposed to is the truest barometer of cultural improvement. Enter Charlie Worsham and his debut album Rubberband that is being lauded by many critics and fans alike as a breath of fresh air for the mainstream radio dial.
The album features traditionalist country favorites Vince Gill and Marty Stuart on a track called “Tools of the Trade,” and the first single “Could It Be” has already seen some moderate chart success. But Charlie Worsham may be benefiting from the same phenomenon that has aided the legacy of Garth Brooks in recent years. As mainstream country music males continue to descend into a malestrom of checklist countryisms and crossover hip-hop forays, everything that isn’t a dirt road rap song all of a sudden begins to sound a whole lot better to our audio palettes.
Rubberband is a very fun album that sucks you right in, with sensible instrumentation, slick production with juicy hooks and choruses, and songs that are easy to relate to. But boiled down it is still a derivative, and just a step above the Rascal Flatts and Keith Urbans of the world on both the country and creativity meters. There’s nothing to be offended by here per se, and hardcore country fans will hate to admit how much they like some of these songs, but Charlie Worsham is no Kellie Pickler. Rubberband is pop country, despite some moments of depth.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is more bad than good. I certainly don’t blame folks for being excited about this album, and it has a really warm, innocent feel to it like a country pop record from the 80′s. The fact that an artist on Warner Bros Nashville could sneak an album in the door that doesn’t include a litany of Chevy truck and ice cold beer references, or the appearance of some washed-up rapper, is a victory in itself these days. Wosham co-wrote all the songs on this record, and I’d be lying if I said songs like “Tools of the Trade,” “Rubberband,” or the especially-catchy and potential breakout single “Want Me To” didn’t have me tapping my toes along.
Charlie Worsham resides in the rarely trodden space between mainstream and independent country, and this allows him to be different things to different people. He’s toured with Taylor Swift….and Wade Bowen. He can be catchy without feeling contrived. And this could open up a wide audience for him. And who knows, it also may deliver a slight bit more substance to mainstream radio, or at least, a choice for mainstream fans of a male performer who is not willing to slavishly follow trends.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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For the first time in the last half decade, the Grand Ole Opry is poised to induct a traditionally-leaning country music act into its distinct and coveted roster of permanent members. Opry member Marty Stuart surprised Old Crow Medicine Show at their show at the Ohio Theater in Cleveland tonight (8-16) with an invitation to join the storied institution during Old Crow’s scheduled performance. Their induction will take place September 17th.
Formed in 1998, Old Crow Medicine Show’s history is strongly tied to the Grand Ole Opry and some of its most important members. The band was discovered by Doc Watson’s daughter when busking on the same street Doc Watson used to play in Boone, NC. That led to them participating in the annual MerleFest music festival in the spring of 2000. At MerleFest, a woman from the Opry named Sally Wilson saw the band perform and invited them to participate in outdoor events in the Opry plaza throughout the summer. The band then found favor with Marty Stuart, who took them under his wing as a mentor. Old Crow Medicine Show made their Grand Ole Opry debut in January of 2001 at a Ryman Auditorium show.
In 2004 the band released their breakout album O.C.M.S produced by David Rawlings, and became one of the premiere string band acts in independent country music. With big songs like “Tell It To Me,” and the now gold-certified “Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show was one of the first string band acts to find fans outside of traditional country circles. “Wagon Wheel” has gone on to become a #1 hit for Darius Rucker, and Old Crow Medicine Show is often named as a precursor and major influence to bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers that have brought massive commercial success to the string band concept.
The Opry’s Old Crow invitation ends a string of invitations and inductions of present-day country pop stars that have angered some traditionalist fans. Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, and Darius Rucker were the Opry’s last three inductees. The last traditional country star to be inducted was Charlie Daniels in 2008. With this move, the Opry appears to be recognizing Old Crow’s influence, their recent success, and their ability to bridge differences in taste with their enthusiastic and creatively deft show.
So many of pop country’s celebrities have such a vacuous amount of life skills, without being propped up as pretty faces by the country music industry, they’d be clueless in the real world. Others probably have some skills outside of singing into Auto-tuners at concerts, and that’s probably what they should be doing instead of trying to be artists.
Always wanting to be helpful here at Saving Country Music, we have compiled some ideas/suggestions of what some big pop country stars could do if they had to find other employment.
Star: Justin Moore
Yes, because he’s barely tall enough to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl, and is no more than 95 pounds soaking wet. Gotta work what God gave you.
Star: Joe Diffie
Profession: Mall Cop
“No Mr. Diffie, no need to cut the mullet or shave the mustache. You’ll fit right in here at The Shops at Westcreek.”
Star: Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts
Profession: Gynecologist / Youth Minister / Celebrity Chef / Professional Karaoke Singer
I know, quite a breadth of professions. But with hair that great, the possibilities are endless!
Star: Brantley Gilbert
Profession: MMA-World Ball Sack Sniffer
He can pump iron and down copious amounts of steroids, but doesn’t have the instincts or smarts to actually handle it mono e mono in the octagon. So he stands in a corner with a towel thrown over his shoulder, holding a water bottle, waiting to wipe up a nosebleed and maybe pick off a sloppy second groupie stumbling away from one of the contenders.
Star: Brain Kelley of Florida Georgia Line
Profession: Mannequin / Wallflower
Doesn’t really sing, doesn’t really play guitar. This dude does less than Congress.
Star: Colt Ford
Profession: Grimmace at McDonaldland / Transvestite Truck Driver
I don’t know what mental image is more disturbing: Colt Ford cooped up in a big purple suit (just imagine the butt sweat), or his rippling thighs confined by fishnets, with a dash of eau de toilette perfuming his pasty inner thighs. (Worth noting he tried his hand at professional golf for a while.)
Star: Luke Bryan
Profession: Male Stripper
You may want to check the ID’s on some of those girls, Luke.
Star: Gretchen Wilson
Profession: Leg Breaker / Diesel Mechanic
She can beat you at arm wrestling, or strip down an engine and machine your headers all before lunch.
Star: Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum
Profession: Non-threatening male elementary school teacher / puppeteer
Has there ever been a more emasculated star in the history of country music?
Profession: Roided-out, AA-level, baseball wash out
Aldean actually almost went to college on a baseball scholarship and had some moderate skills in that direction. Our ears could’ve only been so lucky….
Star: Kenney Chesney
Profession: Sandals / flowery shorts model
Oh great, yet another damn song about hanging out on the beach. And what the hell’s going on in this photo? Does he even have pants on?
Star: Blake Shelton
Profession: Manure Shoveler
After all, isn’t that what his initials stand for?
When looking at the historical timeline of country music, many times it is big events that set the wheels of change in motion, for the good and the bad. Whether it is intrusion of pop or rap into country, or the ill-treatment of country music greats, here are some of the most embarrassing moments in country music history.
Shuttering of the Country Music Mother Church
The Grand Ole Opry needed a bigger home and the move was inevitable, but the result was the complete shuttering Ryman Auditorium, also known as the Country Music Mother Church, for 20 years. Aside from being opened by special permission to shoot videos for folks like Jason & The Scorchers, John Hartford, and for parts of the Coal Miner’s Daughter movie, the venue was abandoned between 1974 and 1994, also allowing the surrounding lower Broadway area to be overrun with strip clubs and dirty bookstores. It wasn’t until Emmylou Harris recorded a live album at the Ryman that a renewed interest in the historic venue was sparked, eventually leading to its restoration and re-opening.
Garth Brooks Goes Flying Over Texas Stadium
In 1993 at the old Texas Stadium in Irving, TX, Garth Brooks does a video shoot and decides to pull a Sandy Duncan and go flying over the crowd suspended with wires. Though it was a one-off demonstration, it illustrated Garth’s influence of turning country into more of a commercial, arena-rock presentation.
Jessica Simpson plays the Grand Ole Opry
You already forgot that reality star Jessica Simpson had a stint trying to be a country performer, didn’t you? Her career lasted weeks, but that was long enough for the Opry to decide to give her an opportunity to be on the sainted Opry stage on September 6th, 2008, while many other more worthy performers still wait indefinitely in the wings for the distinguished Opry opportunity.
Unfinished Hank Williams Songs Turned Into Lost Notebooks Album
Publisher Sony ATV cashed in on a collection of lyric sheets left behind by Hank Williams—some unfinished, and all without music—by doling them out surreptitiously to Bob Dylan, and a bevy of undeserving artists including Jakob Dylan and Sheryl Crow, to finish and record. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams raised the ire of many, including Hank’s daughter and Williams estate executor Jett Williams who said about the project, “It was like ‘here are some lyrics’ instead of trying to think, “If Hank Williams was sitting here with me and it’s got his musical footprints all over it.” You would think that when you heard the song being sung by the artist, that it would have some kind of (Hank) feel to it, which I’m not feeling it myself.”
DeFord Bailey Fired from the Grand Ole Opry
Harmonica player and Country Music Hall of Famer DeFord Bailey was one of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and was an official member from 1927 to 1941 when a dispute with BMI-ASCAP wouldn’t allow him to perform his most famous songs on the radio. Instead of standing behind one of their founding performers, the Opry fired DeFord. This ended his performance career and DeFord shined shoes for the rest of his life to make a living. DeFord did not play the Opry again until 1974 when he appeared on an “Old Timers’ Show.”
Jason Aldean Performs “Dirt Road Anthem” with Ludacris on CMT Awards
“History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage in June of 2011 when country music saw its first rap performance on an awards show, and the first live mainstream collaboration with a rap artist. This event and “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 would open the country rap flood gates.
Olivia Newton-John and John Denver Winning CMA Awards
Olivia Newton-John’s CMA for “Female Vocalist of the Year” in 1974, and John Denver’s CMA for “Entertainer of the Year” in 1975 symbolized the historic intrusion of pop into the country format in the mid-70′s. The trend was staved off the next year when Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings ushered in the Outlaw movement in country.
Taylor Swift Wins First CMA for Entertainer of the Year
The date 11/11 was not good luck for country music in 2009, when Taylor Swift took home her first Country Music Association “Entertainer of the Year” award along with three other trophies on the night. Teen pop had now taken center stage in country music.
Induction of Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, & Darius Rucker Into The Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry had already been wanting to appeal to a younger, more youthful crowd, but in recent years they have ratcheted it up another notch, completely ignoring older country stars worthy of induction for pop country’s latest trends.
“Struggle” Turns Waylon Songs Into Rap
It was bad enough when rap infiltrated country music. Now it has gone back in time to overwrite the songs of country greats that have passed on. Waylon Jennings’ grandson-in-law nicknamed “Struggle” (his real name is Will Harness, and his real grandfather is Duane Eddy) took 7 Waylon Jennings songs, and rehashed them into rap songs in an album entitled I Am Struggle released in May of 2013. It was an unprecedented intrusion of rap into country music’s past, perpetrated by one of the few people who could get the blessing of the Waylon estate to do so. (read more)
Stonewall Jackson Stonewalled by the Grand Ole Opry
After having his performances on the Grand Ole Opry cut back so much that he lost his health benefits, Stonewall Jackson sued the Opry claiming age discrimination against Opry General Manager Pete Fisher. Stonewall claimed the Opry breached a long-standing code that if stars performed a set number of dates each year, even when they could make more money playing tour dates, they would always have a place to play at the Opry even in their older age. The lawsuit was eventually settled in court, and though the specific details of it were never revealed, Stonewall was happy with the outcome, and his performance schedule increased afterward.
Garth Brooks Becomes Chris Gains
In 1999, a bored Garth Brooks created a fictional dark pop character from Australia called Chris Gaines and released an album called The Life of Chris Gains. It gained Garth one Top 5 hit, “Lost In You,” but Brooks’ Chris Gaines idea met with very heavy criticism and confusion from fans, and after only a few weeks, Chris Gains rode off into the sunset and Garth Brooks re-appeared before a planned movie The Lamb could go into production.
The Grand Ole Opry’s Refusal to Reinstate Hank Williams
Even though there is a Hank Williams impersonator to greet Opry attendees at the door, the institution has refused to reinstate one of country music’s most legendary icons, and one that made the Opry an internationally-known institution, even in a symbolic gesture. Hank was dismissed from the Opry in 1952 for missing performances and rehearsals due to alcoholism, and was told he could return once he sobered up. Hank never got that opportunity, dying on New Years Eve of that year. A movement called Reinstate Hank looks to reinstate the country star back into the institution.
George Jones “Choices” & Other CMA Performances Cut Short
At the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices.” George refused and boycotted the show, and in response Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top,” cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices.” (read more)
This was actually the second time an artist boycotted the CMA’s. In a much less publicized event, Waylon Jennings refused to perform an abbreviated version of “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.” Waylon recalls, “They told me not to get smart. Either I did it or I got out. They said, ‘We don’t need you.’ I decided that was true and left.”
Take the West Coast country coolness of Dwight Yoakam, the haunting tremolo of Roy Orbison, the sweaty rhythms of Los Lobos, and what you get is Miami’s indescribable and enigmatic throwback old-school all-things-to-all-people house band for America known as The Mavericks.
The Mavericks are like some strange Central American fruit you purchase in South Texas that once you cut open the rind a bounty of greatness starts gushing out. Its taste is both exotic and warmly familiar, and its supple membranes are revitalizing to both the body and spirit.
Some bands like to espouse themselves “defying genre,” when many times this is just a front for lacking a musical compass or an original sound, hoping disparate elements will meld together simply from the uniqueness of the experience. That is not the case with The Mavericks. Every one of their songs is a country song. Every one is a Latin song. And every one is rock n’ roll, all the way through. It’s because their influences overlay each other in parallel layers instead of being haphazardly mixed together. They aren’t a blend of genres, they’re every classic genre all at the same time. The Mavericks’ sound means something to such a wide range of people by being able to tug at the music roots of listeners from a myriad of diverse backgrounds.
Looking at this album on paper, you almost don’t want to give it a chance. How much more could the Mavericks have left in the tank? Sure they did some good stuff in the 90′s, but then there was the 2004 split, and frontman Raul Malo’s solo career that has seen 6 albums no less. At some point every artist reaches their limit for creative output, and it’s not hard to surmise that a band like The Mavericks had their best days in the past. And In Time was released by the Valory Music Group, which is an imprint of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records and the home of Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, etc. etc. Good, cool music can’t come from that barn, can it?
If In Time is any indication, yes it can, and it can still come from The Mavericks as well. This album isn’t just a good album from The Mavericks, it might be the best album in their nearly 25-year history, and its one of the best put out so far in 2013.
Back in the mid 90′s, The Mavericks were winning CMA Awards and putting out platinum-certified albums, despite not having one top 10 single and not really fitting in with the regular country crowd. But to get there they still had to somewhat play the game. Now The Mavericks have nothing to lose, nothing to prove to anyone, and this latitude allows the original idea behind the band to fully blossom. Raul Malo’s songwriting has never been better, and his voice never more laden with character. Where their 90′s material might feel somewhat dated to the modern ear, In Time feels timeless, with a classic sound, and a warm, analog patina enveloping the entire project.
This is not just a great album for The Mavericks, it is a great addition to the American songbook as an example of the melting pot of cultures that have come together to birth some of the most vibrant and compelling music heard by man.
Two guns way up!
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In yet another landmark deal, Big Machine Records founder and CEO Scott Borchetta has commenced a joint venture in the songwriting realm with the pop world’s Dr. Luke. A songwriter and producer, Dr. Luke’s publishing company boasts 30-40 big names in the pop world–names like Katy Perry and Ke$ha. The objective of the joint venture is “to allow the two companies to co-publish songwriters with the goal of bringing country and pop writers into each other’s realm.” In other words, the deal will likely mean even more pop on country radio, as pop songwriters and producers collaborate more intimately with Big Machine’s growing roster of country talent.
The seeds of the deal were planted when Scott Borchetta suggested Big Machine artist Taylor Swift collaborate with songwriting producers Max Martin and Shellback on her latest release Red. The relationship resulted in two multi-platinum mega hits: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” As Billboard states about the deal:
The goal for both teams is to keep an eye open for the other, sending writers to L.A. from Nashville and vice-versa to fit the needs of the two teams. Naturally, both sides see the current landscape in pop music as receptive to the merging of the two cultures, evidenced by Swift’s use of various non-Nashville experts to assist with her music on her latest Big Machine release ‘Red.’
The new deal will mean that at the very inception of the creative process–the writing of songs–pop writers and producers will have more input in country music. It will also mean that since Dr. Luke’s pop songwriters will be working under the same corporate umbrella as their country counterparts, the collaborations will be more financially lucrative for the parent companies. The deal could also erode the genre integrity of the pop world, as country producers and songwriters from Nashville swap their tastes with LA-based pop acts. Similar to Clear Channel monopolizing radio markets and offering less choice to consumers, the Borchetta/Dr. Luke deal could mean the erosion of choice and contrast between country and pop.
The reason Saving Country Music often refers to Scott Borchetta as the “Country Music Anti-Christ” is not because of the way he handles his Big Machine roster. Compared to many Music Row CEO’s, Borchetta offers incredible creative latitude and financial fairness to his talent bin; a bin that now includes names like Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, Reba McEntire, and The Band Perry. But Borchetta might also be the most responsible party for the erosion of the term “country” in the history of the genre, as he continues to market songs and artists that are either pop or mostly pop through country channels.
Most of all, the new deal reaffirms Scott Borchetta as one of the leading minds in the music business. Country fans can hate on him all they want, but Borchetta has proven himself to be smarter and more shrewd than his Music Row brethren time and time again.
The brushup revolving around Blake Shelton’s recent comments about country music’s classic country fans has mostly died down. Blake apologized, at least to Ray Price and other artists, while excluding angry fans, and later clarifying further by saying, “Still sad that Ray thought I was talking about artists. I was only referring to people who don’t like the new direction country is going.”
This story grew many tentacles, but one worth following a little deeper is Blake Shelton and his current membership at The Grand Ole Opry. Opry historian Byron Fay of Fayfare’s Opry Blog, called for Blake Shelton’s outright firing after his inflammatory comments. This may seem like a reactionary, bellicose opinion, but Byron Fay raised an excellent point. By not making even one appearance at the Opry in 2012, Blake Shelton is in unquestionable violation of the Opry’s long-standing membership rules.
According to the bylaws of The Opry, membership not only has to be earned, but maintained. In April of 1963, The Opry implemented a rule stating that members must make at least 26 appearances on the show per year to keep their membership active. Over the years, the amount of required appearances per year has dropped, though the appearance rule is still in effect. In 1964, Opry management dropped the amount of required performances to 20. Then in 2000, they dropped the requirement to 12.
The Opry does its best to be flexible with their appearance rules for superstar members. For example, if you are a high profile member and make an appearance on a Friday or Saturday, they give you 3 performance credits. But members are still expected to do at least a minimum number of shows each year or risk losing membership.
Blake Shelton was invited to become a member of The Opry on September 29th of 2010, and was officially inducted on October 23rd. 6 months later Blake Shelton became a judge for the reality TV singing contest The Voice on NBC, taped in Los Angeles. The TV show has drawn Blake’s ire a number of times by insisting on running multiple seasons of the contest in the same calendar year. At one point, both Season 3 and Season 4 were being taped simultaneously, while Blake had just released two albums. Furthermore, unlike many Opry members, Blake lives in Oklahoma, not Nashville, making his ability to fulfill his Opry obligations even less likely.
It is understandable that for some Opry members who’ve paid their dues to the institution for many years, performance rules could be more flexible. But Blake never created a tenure with the Opry.
The problem with the Opry’s performance rule is the same problem with The Grand Ole Opry’s current practices for inviting new members. The last three inductees to the Grand Ole Opry were Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, and Darius Rucker–all high-profile, big name members who have touring and label requirements outside of the their Opry obligations. Keith Urban, who was inducted into The Opry in April of 2012, just took the position as an American Idol judge.
Meanwhile traditional artists like Elizabeth Cook are the ones making the most Opry appearances annually, including filling many last-minute slots for big-name cancellations. Yet these Nashville-based artists that have fulfilled The Opry’s membership requirements many times over seem nowhere close to induction because of the Opry’s exclusive focus on only inducting members with superstar names recently.
In August of 1952, The Grand Ole Opry fired Hank Williams for missing practices and showing up drunk. We all know The Opry is not going to fire Blake Shelton, but if Opry membership or the institution itself is going to have any meaning moving forward, they must either adhere to their rules, reform them, or reform the membership process. Otherwise, it may be The Opry that is ignored, not just their loosely-defined and ill-followed rules.
Leaping off the pages of the latest issue of Tiger Beat, Hunter Hayes and his prepubescent, non-gender-specific style have gripped the nation’s middle schools with Hunter mania, spearheaded by his smash hit “Wanted”– a saccharine, ultra-diluted white boy R&B B-side at best, only finding commercial traction on country radio because legions of lanky, affluent, glitter-faced suburban girls in training bras want to see Hunter’s penis.
Hunter Hayes got his start in country music by famously singing Jambalaya at a Hank Jr. concert. Since then you’d have better luck finding a honest-to-God whisker on Hunter’s supple cheeks than a song from him that in any way could be defined as country. He was 4-years-old back then and he’s 21 now, but Hunter’s appeal seems to be that he looks, sounds, and acts perpetually 14. Call it the Bieber effect finding its way to country music. Hunter is a fortunate son who unfortunately decided to label his ragingly milktoast, bleached and bland, hyper-safe pop sonnets “country” instead of the pop or adult contemporary it is more akin to. Don’t let Hunter’s peroxide-tipped Gary Levox hairdo fool you; he makes Rascal Flatts sound like Johnny Paycheck.
“Wanted” is the music version of dry humping. Like so many light listening ballads that build out from the reassuring line “you are beautiful,” it preys on girls and women with self-esteem issues with its lyrical hook, “I want to make you feel wanted.” That’s right, Hunter hasn’t maturated enough where he can just say he wants a woman. He just wants a woman to feel wanted. And then maybe she will be receptive to the advances he’s thinking about making…once his balls finally drop. This subservient, non-assertive approach is what makes desperate women weep, and men vehemently seek out a safe place to vomit.
The chorus of “Wanted,” especially the cadence of Hunter’s words, is overly contrived and wholly ambivalent to originality or creative artistic expression. The song is an excellent example of the algorithmic approach to musical composition. “Wanted” is music for people who don’t like music.
Is pop music that uses country radio to circumvent the glut in the pop world more problematic than country rapping or “fake Outlaws” who scream about how country they are in songs that at their heart are pop too? No, because at least “Wanted” has some honesty behind the approach, and I’ll give Hunter credit for turning in a fairly passionate performance despite the dry parameters of the song structure. Hunter Hayes and “Wanted” aren’t terrible, they’re just mislabeled. There’s a place in the world for music like this. That place just isn’t country.
1 3/4 of 2 guns down.
The Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta has decided to unleash a new wave of pestilence on the human eardrum, this time in the form of the glorified boy band Florida Georgia Line.
Originating from the Republic Nashville imprint of Big Machine Records, the duo consisting of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley met while attending the Mike Curb College of Music at Nashville’s private and exclusive Belmont University. I know, right? Doesn’t get more country than that! Apparently they were both enrolled in the “How To Be A Upper Middle Class Douchebag But Pretend To Be A Country Boy And Filch Rednecks Out Of Their Hard Earned Money, 101″ class. They made eyes across the classroom, and afterwards discussed their mutual desire for world music domination over $175 haircuts, manscaping, and colonics. Next thing you know, Florida Georgia Line is born.
Florida Georgia Line is a horrible combination of Rascal Flatts pretty boy hyper-pop, and designer jeans Jason Aldean “backroad” laundry list bullshit. They are everything bad about quotation mark “country” in 2012 combined into one big stuffed crotch sandwich.
Punctuating how pathetic “Cruise” is, is the fact that these two dudes apparently don’t know how to use punctuation. The first line of the song goes, “Baby you a song,” instead of, “Baby you’re a song.” But what else can you expect when the title of their EP is It’z Just What We Do. Yes, it’s one of those albums, blurring the lines between Ebonics and idiocracy, produced by Joey Moi of Nickelback fame. I swear, sometimes these rants just write themselves.
Somebody should tell the Doogie Houser-looking Brian Kelley that if you want to play electric guitar, you actually have to PLUG IT IN. Actually strike that, we don’t want to hear this hack-ass Ken doll-looking douche nozzle struggling to finger the most basic chords. His best chance of locating a G-string is if it was riding up his bandmate Tyler Hubbard’s ass. Looks like Tyler Hubbard likes to rock the dog tags, but just because he wears dog tags and plays with his privates doesn’t mean he has any army cred.
Sorry for being rude Tyler and Brian, it’z just what I do.
“Cruise” is about cheap girls and expensive trucks, set to a straightforward rock song with the ever-present pop country dead giveaway: the token banjo. Tyler and Brian think they’re picking up all these chicks because of their pimped-out ride, but the truth is most of these sweet little fraulines haven’t said no to a man since puberty. And unfortunately that “lift kit” on their Chevy won’t raise their IQ’s out of the sub-par percentiles or increase the potential of their laughable, dwarfish manhoods brought on by more metabolics than Manny Ramirez gulped down during the steroid era. It also won’t make me overlook that Florida Georgia Line’s vocals have all the tell-tale earmarks of Auto-tune embellishment.
And what is this yellow shit they’re tossing around towards the end of the video? It’s never a good idea to wallow in anything yellow and powdery. Piles of raw pollen? Sulfur? Powdered eggs? Powdered AIDS? Hell screw it, let them play around in it and let’s hope it brings a demise to this awful, puss-filled abscess of American corporate culture.
This is the #2 song in country music for the 2nd straight week folks. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Welcome to country music Florida Georgia Line.
Two guns down!
Warning: Rank classless immaturity ahead.
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As some of you may already know, I’ve got a good friend named Pointer, and every year we get together for an annual trip to downtown Nashville around Labor Day. Pointer and I are great friends and we both love country music, but we couldn’t be on more opposite sides of the country music spectrum. You see, I like the old stuff and the cool independent stuff of today, while Pointer loves pop country. But that’s okay, we’re such good friends we get along with each other and enjoy our annual trip to Nashville together.
Last year Pointer and I visited downtown Nashville and had a great time. He loves to have his picture taken in front of things. So I thought I’d share some snapshots from Pointer’s and I’s 2012 downtown Nashville trip.
The first thing we saw as we were pulling into downtown Nashville on I-40 was a huge billboard advertising Rascal Flatts!
Pointer is a HUGE Rascal Flatts fan, and so he had to get his picture taken with it!
Then we headed into downtown Nashville proper. Nashville has such a beautiful skyline. I snapped this picture when Pointer and I were strolling along the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge across the Cumberland River.
Pointer loves the Nashville skyline too. He’s also a HUGE fan of CMT’s new reality programming like Redneck Vacation and Bayou Billionaires. I don’t like those shows because I think they perpetuate negative country stereotypes, but it’s all Pointer watches. So when we were strolling downtown, he insisted he get his picture taken in front of their building!
Then we walked across Broadway to the Country Music Hall of Fame!
I was really excited to go to the Hall of Fame to check out their new Bakersfield Sound Exhibit!
One of the things I love about the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is that they house the largest archive of country music memorabilia that exists. The most important part of the collection is called “The Precious Jewel” which is 6 of some of the most-important instruments to ever be played in the genre: Bill Monroe’s Gibson F-5 mandolin, Hank Williams’ Martin D-28 guitar, Lester Flatt’s D-28, Jimmie Rodgers’ Martin 00-18 guitar, “Mother” Maybelle Carter’s Gibson L-5 guitar, and Chet Atkins’ D’Angelico Excel.
With such important and historic relics housed in one place, you can imagine my horror when Shooter Jennings and his XXX movement decided a good way to push their branding was to point a tank at a museum hosing these precious icons. Pointer was neither here nor there on Shooter until his recent duet with The Nickelback of Country Music, Bucky Covington. Pointer LOVES Bucky, and loves the duet “Drinking Side of Country” so he wanted to get his picture taken at the place where Shooter pointed his belligerent tank at the last remaining country music institution preserving its history and traditions.
For some reason, Pointer insisted on holding the lens cap when taking the picture. I wonder about that boy sometimes.
So then it was starting to get dark so we decided to hike down to Music Row, the place in downtown Nashville where all the major labels have their home offices. Last year our big stop on Music Row was Curb Records. This year Pointer wanted to find the elusive, unmarked offices of his favorite label, Taylor Swift’s Big Machine Records owned by the Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta. They purposely leave their building unmarked, but after some cyber-sleuthing and asking around, we found the proper place and Pointer couldn’t wait to get his picture taken in front of it!
Many Music Row offices are housed in older houses, and some tear down the old houses and build bigger buildings as the label grows. According to Pointer and I’s sources, the building being constructed right beside Big Machine’s current home office will be their new office soon, so Pointer wanted to be pictured in front of that as well!
Oh but I’m leaving out the best part! As we were trolling around, looking for Big Machine’s building, who did Pointer and I see than none other than Scott Borchetta himself! I can’t you how much Pointer would have LOVED to get his picture with him, but by the time we had pulled over and located the camera, Scott had slithered inside. So Pointer had to settle for getting a picture with Borchetta’s car.
Pointer and I really enjoyed our trip to Nashville once again, and looking forward to many fun Nashville adventures in the coming years.
These days you can’t go a few minutes listening to modern mainstream country radio without hearing a “Laundry List” song in the rotation. Usually with little or no plot or story, they simply spew out easily-identifyable elements of country culture (ice cold beer, pickup trucks, dirt roads, etc.) in an attempt to appeal to mostly non-country demographics that can live the country life vicariously through the shallow lyrics.
Another common thread through country checklist songs is how they are used to convey country pride, and help their listeners identify with their side of the urban vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. non-religious culture war. Nostalgia is also a big player.
Like most of the overused song formulas employed by Music Row songwriters, the laundry list likely started with some good, creative, innovative tunes. But once something works, it is called upon again and again by Music Row until all creativity is spent and it becomes cliche. Such is the evolution (or devolution) of the country checklist song.
What is the “first” country music laundry list song?
Though there were others before it, David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” comes in as a strong candidate from the way Coe lists out the things from his past that make him “country” and the continued popularity of the song today.
What is the first MODERN country music laundry list song?
Though Rebel Son, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and some other artists may have something to say about it, Rhett Akins “Kiss My Country Ass” is a solid contender for where songs about country pride went from conveying stories to simply being vapid lists of country artifacts and behaviors.
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Below is a list of songs that likely contributed or played an important role in the formation of the modern country checklist song from the legacy era, and a list of songs in the modern era that could be called the “first” laundry list song. I don’t pretend for this list to be complete, so if you feel there is an omission, please add your 2 cents in the comments.
THE LEGACY ERA
Merle Haggard – “Okie From Muskogee” – 1969
Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen. Football’s still the roughest thing on campus. And the kids here still respect the college dean.
Unlike the modern laundry list song, Merle spends most of the time in “Okie From Muskogee” spelling out what people from the country (or Muskogee) don’t do, but the idea of country people using a song to delineate themselves from the other side of society in the culture war through lists of artifacts and behaviors was born. And so was the “Proud to be” lyric that is so prevalent in laundry list songs today.
Bob Seger – “Night Moves” – 1977
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy. Out in the backseat of my ’60 Chevy.
Bob’s first breakout song, and Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Best Single of 1977″ (it was released in December of ’76), it has had huge reverberations in modern country despite being released in rock. The laundry list lyrics are clear, and so is the nostalgia that is an essential element to many modern laundry list compositions. I’ve said before that the majority of modern country songs can be traced back to “Night Moves”. Listen to the best-selling country song from 2011, the Brantley Gilbert/Colt Ford-penned “Dirt Road Anthem” and you will spy the nostalgia of “Night Moves” all throughout it.
David Allan Coe – “If That Ain’t Country” – 1977
With 13 kids and a bunch of dogs, a house full of chickens and a yard full of hogs. Spent the summertime cutting up logs for the winter.
If you’re looking for the first true laundry list country song that started the whole trend, this might be the most solid candidate. But unlike the modern laundry list song, this one actually has a story and theme to convey, and is truly autobiographical. “If That Ain’t Country” was Coe attempting to prove his country cred to critics who said his music wasn’t, which is what many modern male pop country stars must do because they aren’t. It also features the lyric “Kiss my ass” that becomes a big player in the laundry list song’s evolution.
Hank Williams Jr. “Country Boy Can Survive” – 1982
“I live back in the woods you see, the woman and the kids and the dogs and me. I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a 4 wheel drive, and a country boy can survive.”
One of Hank Jr.’s seminal songs and all self-penned, it spells out the pride and resilience of people from the country like few others. But many elements of “Country Boy Can Survive” are misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misappropriated in the modern checklist song. Resilience is replaced by fear, self-reliance by materialism. Country and Southern pride are at the heart of many Hank Jr. compositions, but few resonate like this one still does today. “Country Boy Can Survive” and Hank Jr. are referenced specifically in many modern laundry list songs.
THE MODERN ERA
Marcus Hummon “God’s Country USA” – 1995
Looking back at my one cop town, skinny dipping drinking Royal Crown. And thinking about year long days, and rowdy ways, and best friends lost and found. Remembering my half back moves, night games and backseat blues.
This song may be somewhat obscure, but may be the missing link between the old-school and modern-day laundry list country songs. Marcus Hummon is a big, behind-the-scenes songwriter in Nashville that has written #1 hits for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, The Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, and has numerous Top 40 hits to his name. Hummon was 14 years ahead of his time with this song that sounds just like the checklist songs of today.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “That’s How I Like It” – 2003
Like my women hot and my beer ice cold. A real fast car and my whiskey old. Like a slow drive down and old dirt road. That’s how I like it.
Even more surprising than how similar the lyrics to “That’s How I Like It” are to today’s laundry list songs is how similar the sonic structure is. Lynyrd Skynyrd is a Southern rock band, meaning they could get away with rock beats and overdriven guitars in 2003 when this would have been crossing a line in country. Of course today in country, anything goes. From the unplugged intro, to the rhythmic power chords, to the almost rapping style of lyrics in the chorus, “That’s How I Like It” is the sonic template many present-day laundry list songs are derived from.
Rebel Son – “Redneck Piece of White Trash” – May 2005
I like to dip, I like to spit. I like talking on the phone when I’m taking a shit. I’m proud to be a redneck piece of white trash. If you don’t like that pucker up motherfucker you can kiss my ass.
This song from a relatively-obscure, but well-loved band with a very loyal fan base virtually writes, trumps, exposes, and lampoons all modern pop country laundry list songs all at once, even though it was written way before most of them. Aside from the “kiss my ass” lyric from David Allan Coe, if you want to find the truly “first” original modern checklist country song, look no further. Rebel Son relies on humor, while at the same time portraying cold-faced reality in songs meant to be hysterical and completely serious at the same time.
Rhett Akins – “Kiss My Country Ass” – October 2005
Tearing down a dirt road, Rebel flag flying, coon dog in the back. Truck bed loaded down with beer and a cold one in my lap.
Probably the more obvious and more-accepted advent of the modern laundry list country song (as opposed to Rebel Son), “Kiss My Country Ass” appeared on Rhett’s 2007 album People Like Me, but was released as a single in October of 2005. The song mentions Hank Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” directly, and was re-recorded by Blake Shelton for his 2010 Hillbilly Bone EP. If you’re looking for the smoking gun, the primary culprit for the modern laundry list song’s popularity and its move from telling stories to simply conveying lists of countryisms, “Kiss My Country Ass” is the probably strongest candidate.
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Thanks to frequent SCM commenter “tontoisdrunk” for asking about the evolution of the laundry list song.
I first used the phrase “Country Music Antichrist” in reference to Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta about 2 1/2 years ago. I’d like to hold my chin high and say I was being prophetic, but in truth at the time I just thought it was a nasty way to label the guy primarily responsible for the rise of Taylor Swift and the biggest perversion of the term “country” the genre has ever seen. And hey, he has the evil goatee. But little did I know a few short years down the road, Borchetta would become one of the most powerful men in all of music.
The reason I coined the nickname had to do with the purity of genre terms. Borchetta calls Taylor Swift country when she’s clearly pop, and Justin Moore has been the primary culprit in the corruption of another important country term, “Outlaw”. We can argue back and forth if we should even care about the purity of these terms any more. This was a much more salient discussion when Taylor Swift was winning her first CMA for Entertainer of the Year in 2009. At this point that battle has been lost. The only question is if these terms are worth fighting to reclaim.
But disgruntled country music purists are not the only ones who look at Borchetta as the Antichrist of their music world. His rival label executives on Music Row must see Borchetta as just as much of a threat, if not even more of one to their way of life. If the prototypical Music Row executive can be visualized as the gray-haired man with a steak-and-potatoes gut spilling out of his navy suit, then Borchetta is the in-shape, sleek guy in a tight-fitting black spandex shirt taking office Yoga breaks and ordering in sushi. As the traditional labels in Nashville have been lethargic in their attempt to keep up with trends, Borchetta has been running circles around them, pilfering their talent rosters and penning historic deals that will re-shape the music industry for years to come.
It hasn’t even been a month since I claimed Scott Borchetta was the new “King of Nashville” after signing Tim McGraw, and since then Borchetta has been at the helm for two more huge decisions. First at the beginning of June, Big Machine expanded into the music publishing business, the one calm port in the calamitously-recessive music industry in the last decade. As sales decline, rights for the use of songs in TV shows, movies, commercials, etc. has remained steady. And then just last week, he inked a deal with Clear Channel that will earn performance rights for his artists when they are played on the radio, a deal that will likely shape how music rights are handled as radio expands and morphs into a more digital format.
The Clear Channel deal is a huge win for Borchetta. “The Big Machine Label Group is the first United States record company in history to have performance rights for our artists,” he told The Tennessean. The deal points out the other dichotomy about Scott Borchetta and his Antichrist identity: his rise to power has in part been the fault of Big Machine’s culture to actually take care of artists and extend to them a measure of creative freedom, ironically the thing same some traditionalists who hate Borchetta for his perversion of country terms and been clamoring about for years.
Scott Borchetta is just what Nashville and country music needed, while also being the sum of all of its fears. His gamble with Taylor Swift paid off in the sweetest run of spades one could possibly imagine, and now he’s not just a big player in the country music world, he is the biggest, and with the Clear Channel deal his influence stretches way beyond the country music realm. The Tim McGraw signing and the Clear Channel deal may not be the culmination of Borchetta’s rise, it may be the beginning of it, as all ties to the old oligarchy that governed Nashville since the time of RCA, Acuff/Rose, and Studio B, slip away from the market power amassed from the success of Taylor Swift.
So yes, though the term “Country Music Antichrist” feels wholly immature and unfair, it also feels expertly a propos.
Timeline of Scott Borchetta’s Rise
- Scott Borchetta starts Big Machine Records after DreamWorks Records dissolves where he was a top executive. It begins as a joint venture with Toby Keith, and is distributed by Universal Music Group.
- Borchetta sees Taylor Swift perform at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville during an artists showcase, and decides to sign her, making Swift the first Big Machine artist.
- Big Machine signs Jack Ingram and releases the album Live: Wherever You Are.
- Toby Keith leaves Big Machine to start his own record label, Show Dog.
- Taylor Swift releases her debut album, Taylor Swift, which would go on to be certified platinum 5 times over, was #1 on the Top Country Albums chart for 24 non-consecutive weeks, and was the longest album to stay in the Billboard 200 in the decade.
- Big Machine launches a subsidiary label called Valory Music Group, signing Jewel and Justin Moore among others.
- Sunny Sweeny signs with Big Machine and releases Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame in March.
- Trisha Yearwood signs with Big Machine and releases Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love in November.
- Taylor Swift releases Fearless, selling a total of 8.6 million copies worldwide, and 6.5 million in the United States, making it the second best selling album in the last decade, and the best selling album in all of music in 2009. It is the only album that has ever remained in the Billboard 200 Top 10 for a full year. It also wins the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2009.
- Big Machine begins promoting Canadian acts Adam Gregory and Emerson Drive.
- Valory Music Group signs Reba McEntire.
- Steel Magnolia signs to Big Machine Records.
- Big Machine joins with Universal Republic to create a new record label imprint, Republic Records Nashville. Sunny Sweeny becomes a Republic Nashville artist.
- Republic Nashville signs The Band Perry.
- Taylor Swift wins first CMA for Artist of the Year, the youngest artist to ever do so.
- Rascal Flatts signs to Big Machine, releasing Nothing Like This in November.
- Brantley Gilbert leaves label Average Joes for Borchetta’s Valory Music Group.
- Taylor Swift releases album Speak Now, which has so far been certified quadruple platinum with over 4 million albums sold. The single “Mean” went on to win two Grammy’s in 2011.
- Scott Borchetta partners with Live Nation Entertainment chairman/Front Line Management Group CEO Irving Azoff to form B.A.D. Management.
- Big Machine signs Thomas Rhett.
- Martina McBride signs with Republic Nashville from RCA.
- Eli Young Band is signed by Republic Nashville, and releases Life at Best.
- Taylor Swift wins second CMA for Artist of the Year.
- Valory Music Group signs The Maverics in Februrary.
- Big Machine Records Signs Tim McGraw in May.
- Big Machine sets up its own music publishing division.
- Scott Borchetta crafts a historic deal with Clear Channel to pay performance rights for Big Machine artists played on radio, while setting the stage for how digital rights and online radio will be managed moving forward.
When Mike Curb first set up shop in Nashville, he had a strategic advantage over his competition: he was local, and he was independent. One of the reasons many major label country artists have such weak control over their music compared to artists in other genres goes back to how the major labels moved into Nashville during the advent of commercial country. Since most of the record labels were based in New York or Los Angeles and owned by larger parent companies, the Nashville offices were managed from afar, with tight controls on cost and content.
Mike Curb didn’t have to work with these restrictions, and this enticed a bevy of talent to his roster. Hank Williams III, maybe Curb Record’s biggest opponent over the years says this factored into him signing with the label even in the late 90′s, with his manager Jack McFadden telling him, “Shelton, I want to deal with Mike Curb because he’s in Nashville more than he’s in California or New York.”
Yesterday Tim McGraw announced in a press conference that he had signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records after a 20-year career and protracted legal battle with Curb. The symbolism and significance surrounding the signing was striking, and spoke to the titanic shifts that are rearranging the country music landscape in Nashville at this very moment.
McGraw and Borchetta initially signed the new deal at Nashville’s Greyhound bus station to symbolize the new beginning. Tim had arrived as a young man from Louisiana with a suitcase and guitar in hand some 20 years before by Grayhound. One of the first people in the music business McGraw was to meet in Nashville was Scott Borchetta’s father, Mike. Mike Borchetta was the man responsible for signing Tim McGraw to Curb Records.
The press conference announcing the new deal was held at the Country Music Hall of Fame, an institution decorated with the Mike Curb name, as are many Nashville landmarks. Holding the presser there was almost like holding it in the belly of the beast, with Borchetta openly criticising Mike Curb, saying that Tim’s first album would be entitled Greatest Hits 4, humorously referring to the incessant greatest hits releases Curb was comically known for towards the end of McGraw’s contract. Soon the Curb name may not be as synonymous with the Hall Of Fame as the one of “Swift”. Taylor Swift, the first artist Borchetta signed in 2005 when he started Big Machine just made a $4 million dollar donation to The Hall of Fame for a new education center, eclipsing any single donation ever made to the institution previously, including any from Mike Curb.
The theme of the McGraw/Borchetta press conference seemed to be the freedom of the artist, with Borchetta insisting that Tim would be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants; a trademark of Big Machine, and the big criticism of Curb. For 15 minutes, it seemed the Mike Curb approach to the music business was on trial, and found guilty. “It’s time for Tim to take over,” said Borchetta. “This is about music. It’s music business. That means music comes first. And that’s what we’re gonna do.”
And that may not be where the grenade lobbing stops between these two Music Row demigods of Curb and Borchetta. Borchetta left the idea very open, if not hinted that Big Machine would be willing to release competing singles from McGraw’s new material to counter the singles being released by Curb from McGraw’s final album Emotional Traffic that Curb delayed for years, and only decided to release after losing in court. “It’s going to be sooner than later,” Borchetta said about McGraw’s new music. “It’s going to take a nation of millions to hold us back.” This could create a country radio dog fight between Curb and Big Machine to a caliber Music Row has never seen.
Just like Hank3, Lyle Lovett, Hank Williams Jr., and the majority of other artists leaving the Curb label, there was a dramatic sense of relief in the face of Tim McGraw. From the music of Hank3, to the cover of Lovett’s last release with Curb, the Curb Record’s restrictionary approach to their artists has become an indelible artifact of the country genre in this time period, one that the future will be able to reflect back on, to an era when artists were forced to sometimes wait half a decade to get their music to their fans.
But that era is coming to a close. Mike Curb is no longer the Titan of Tune Town. His roster is depleted, his relevancy is waning, and with Tim McGraw joining a stable that includes Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and The Band Perry to name a few, it is hard not to label Scott Borchetta and Big Machine as the most dominant label in Nashville, and in all of country music right now. In no uncertain terms, Tim McGraw was a massive, maybe historic acquisition.
Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Record’s success speaks to two things: talent evaluation, and freedom for the artist. Artistic freedom is one of the cornerstones Big Machine is built on, and where much of their success is derived from. In a copycat business in a copycat town, it is encouraging to think that Big Machine’s success and Curb Records’ failures will breed a new era of artistic freedom throughout Music Row.
However similar things were likely said about the rise of the independent, and locally-based Curb Records. Money and power are very effective at eroding values over time. And Big Machine holds no values or promise for the forces fighting for the purity and integrity of country music itself. Looking up and down the Big Machine roster, it is hard to find any true country music at all. How ironic it is to finally see artistic freedom trending upwards on Music Row, yet true country music being left out of that trend in favor of country pop.
Make no mistake about it, there is a new king on top of the country music hill, and his name is Scott Borchetta.
This album is not the worst album ever put out in country music, and to be truthful, it’s not even close. With the advent of country rap, “New Outlaw” country, and the laundry list approach to country music in general, pop country now finds itself in a bit of a haven from the harshest of criticisms.
What Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee album does hold the distinction of being is country music’s most embarrassing album put out to date. Never before for any album or artist has country as a community taken such a complicit, submissive role in an artist’s transition from pop.
From mainstream country media outlets covering this album incessantly from conception to release, from the 2011 CMA Awards giving Lionel an eternity in award show time to promote an album months from coming out, to the ACM Awards giving him a full hour-long special that was no more than an infomercial and mawkish tribute to a man that country music owes nothing to, to the country music talent that lined up to let Lionel use them to perpetuate this country music transition, Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee is the biggest ruse ever perpetrated on the people of country music.
But as I pointed out when declaring that Lionel Richie was not country, Lionel Richie isn’t using country music, country music is using Lionel Richie, because mainstream country music is embarrassed about…well… being country. And Music Row’s obsessive need for increasing sales and appealing to new demographics has made them short-sighted to the effect of what an aging pop star with pop songs being branded as country could do for the long-term of the country music brand.
Tuskegee is simply a rehash of Lionel’s Greatest Hits album, and this isn’t meant as a reductive statement, it is simply the truth. The album simply takes all of Lionel’s old hits from the heyday of his career and re-brands them by pairing the songs up as duets with pop country stars with minimal, if any attention paid to reinvigorating or differentiating the original compositions or approaches.
This album is positioned as a “tribute” to Lionel’s hometown of Tuskegee, AL, but the name is as far as this tribute goes, and just like with the music itself, it comes across as transparent, skin deep attempt to appeal to the country demographic without delivering on substance.
There is some country music instrumentation on this album, some soft pedal steel and such. But they are conveyed not as essential elements of the music, but as overlay to pop compositions that are balanced out with the use of synthetic pop elements as well. In an ironic twist in the current country music landscape, country artists who want to transition into the crossover market tend to eliminate all steel, fiddle, and banjo from their music. But when a Lionel Richie or a Darius Rucker decide to transition from pop, they will use a little steel or banjo to attempt to veil the truth that the music is indeed more indicative of the previous genre they’re jumping from.
With such heavy star power on this album, you would expect to be able to distinguish who Lionel’s duet partners were without consulting the liner notes. But this music is so soft, so produced and pallid, it is difficult to tell the difference between Tim McGraw’s and Rascal Flatts’ contributions, or Shania Twain’s or Little Big Town’s. About the only contributions that were easily distinguishable were from the oldtimers like Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson, and from Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland because of how grossly she over-sings on top of the pitch.
This music is not bad for what it is. Lionel Richie wrote or co-wrote most of these songs, and in their time and place, they are well-written, heartfelt songs that speak to everyday people and their emotional struggles and lives. I can see where this album would find appeal. Tuskegee is music for people that don’t listen to music. Lionel came to his success by talent, not by mistake or subversion.
However now in an attempt to rekindle his success, Lionel is resorting to subversion. Do we really need almost identical compositions of the same songs in a music world already beyond glutted with material? Why not try to make these songs country by introducing some waltz beats for example? Add some contrast and creativity to this album. At this point, the popularity of Tuskegee‘s previously-released material can only keep other artists and projects more deserving of attention farther down.
And make no mistake, Tuskegee is a monster of the country music world, and the music world in general. It has already been certified platinum, been #1 on both the country and overall charts, and it’s hard to argue that so far in 2012, it is not the biggest, most important release in country. It is not out of the question that in November, Tuskegee and Lionel Richie, whose already said he wants to make another country album, will be up for major accolades at the 2012 CMA Awards.
All these accolades are an embarrassment for an album that in the end offers virtually nothing new to the music public. This approach is not how the music industry will resolve its financial woes, it is what caused them.
Two guns down.
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So once again Eric Church has accomplished the open mouth, insert foot trick in an attempt to prove to all of us just how much of an “Outlaw” he is. In the latest edition of The Rolling Stone, not the last one with Obama on the cover, or the other one with Obama on the cover, but the newest one with Obama on the cover, Eric Church twists off on Blake Shelton, dropping F-bombs, and saying Blake is “not an artist” for his role on NBC’s American Idol answer “The Voice”:
It’s become American Idol gone mad. Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green fucking turn around in a red chair, you get a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist…If I was concerned about my legacy, there’s no fucking way I would ever sit there [and be a reality-show judge]. Once your career becomes something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I fucking starve.
Then Eric Church turned his evil eye veiled behind his signature aviators on the current state of the institution of rock n’ roll.
Rock & Roll has been very emo or whatever the fuck. It’s very hipster. We played Lollapalooza and I was stunned at how pussy 90 percent of those bands were. Nobody’s loud. It’s all very fuckin’ Peter, Paul and Mary shit.
On the surface, what Eric Church said about Blake Shelton and “The Voice” is spot on. The problem is that Eric Church, whose very much a product of the same machine Blake Shelton originates from, is the one throwing the punches. Eric Church is on tour right now with the official country music douche Brantley Gilbert for crying out loud. He wants to be considered an “Outlaw”, but he takes every opportunity to be part of the big corporate country music machine by performing at award shows. If Eric Church has such a problem with Blake Shelton, why did he perform his song “Springsteen” at last month’s ACM Awards, that were hosted by, guess who… Blake Shelton.
As Blake’s wife Miranda Lambert pointed out through Twitter, she took Eric out on tour with her in 2010. “Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist,” she tweeted. “You’re welcome for the tour in 2010.”
Erich Church wants it both ways. He wants to be considered the “new Outlaw” of country music, but he wants to still use the same pop country machine he criticizes to get success. And when exactly did calling out other performers make you an Outlaw? I sure don’t remember Willie or Waylon doing that in their Outlaw days. I remember Waylon skipping the award shows, not making self-aggrandizing videos to help drum up votes from fans. And if you can’t do anything but play music to be an artist, does that mean Outlaws Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are disqualified because they acted in movies?
This is the same thing Eric Church has been doing for years. The difference now though is Eric Church is no longer playing a club circuit or even a theater circuit. He’s selling out arenas. He’s a bona fide top tier country music star. I am amazed that his last album Chief released last July is still #4 on the Billboard country charts, and was the greatest gainer last week, helped by his big hit “Springsteen.”
But bad habits die hard, and he’s still acting like he has to insult people to get noticed. So many people have their conspiracy theories of how Taylor Swift came to power in country, floating stories about her dad buying her career, and warehouses full of CD’s purchase to drive SoundScan numbers to get her album in the charts. But in truth her big break came when Eric was on tour with Rascal Flatts. Yeah, again, not very “Outlaw”. After repeatedly ignoring Flatts’ requests to not play as loud and to respect the time slot they had given him, since after all, they were giving Eric Church an opportunity, he got kicked off the tour, opening up a space for the up-and-coming Taylor Swift to benefit from the exposure.
Even if I may agree with some of the things Eric Church says, its hard to believe him. I don’t want him representing the dissent against corporate country music, because he’s part of corporate country music, and he fights dirty.
Lastly, this Rolling Stone article should be taken with a little suspicion. The financially-struggling outlet has a history of taking comments out of context, printing comments that were meant to be off-record, and at times publishing outright fictitious stories to help drive buzz and viral events, just like with what has happened with this story where everywhere you turn, people are talking about it. For example there was the story pitting Kris Kristofferson against Toby Keith that both sides say is completely fictitious, or the article that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal fired. Don’t be surprised if Eric in the coming days comes out and says that his comments were misconstrued in one way or another.
As I anticipated, Eric Church has released a statement through The Boot, saying his comments in The Rolling Stone were “misunderstood.”
“The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves,” Eric clarifies. “The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success. There are a lot of artists due to their own perseverance that have gone on to be successful after appearing on these shows, but the real obstacles come after the cameras stop rolling. Every artist has to follow up television appearances with dedication towards their craft, but these shows tend to gloss over that part and make it seem like you can be ordained into stardom. I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry. Many people have come to think they can just wake up and have things handed to them.
“This piece was never intended to tear down any individual, and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.
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