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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.”
The fight for the purity of country music is almost as old as the genre itself. The conflict between pop and traditionalism, and the fight for creative control for artists runs like a thread throughout country music’s history, defining it as much as the twang of a Telecaster, or the moan of a steel guitar. Here are some of the most iconic images of country music revolution, and the stories behind them.
Fanning The Flames
Charlie Rich was tapped to present the trophy for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1975. Knowing what name the little envelope contained (and not being too happy about it), Rich pulled out his bic and lit it on fire, announcing the winner as “My friend, Mr. John Denver.” Denver wasn’t in attendance and accepted via satellite, unaware of the pyrotechnics. Rich, who’d won 5 CMA Awards in the past, was never invited back to the CMA’s, and was never nominated again.
Flipping The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot by photographer Jim Marshall at California’s San Quentin prison during a concert in 1970. The pose was the response to Jim’s request: “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” Where it became an iconic image of American culture was years later, when Johnny Cash was making his American Recordings records with Rick Rubin. Cash’s album Unchained had won the Grammy for “Best Country Album”, but was being virtually ignored by country radio. So Rick Rubin ran an ad with the obscene image, along with the caption, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to thank the country music establishment and country radio for your support.” (read full story)
On March 17th, 18th, and 19th of 1972, The Dripping Springs reunion, aka the “Country Music Woodstock” went down just outside of Austin, TX. It was a commercial flop, but a fundamentally-important event nonetheless because it established Austin, TX as a serious alternative to the restrictive environment of Nashville, with Willie Nelson leading the charge. Similar to the underground/independent movements in country music today, The Dripping Springs Reunion paid respects to the older legends like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller who all attended and performed, while establishing in earnest the Outlaw movement with native Texans Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson at the helm.
Tompall Glaser saved his pennies from his days in The Glaser Brothers and bought himself a renegade studio / clubhouse that would later be known as Hillbilly Central. Located on 19th Ave. right off of Music Row, it broke the monopoly RCA, Chet Atkins, and Studio “B” had on country music at the time. It allowed artists like Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver to record their music the way they wanted and use their own bands as opposed to Nashville’s unionized studio musicians. In the words of Outlaw writer Michael Bane, it was “the home of all those records Nashville really didn’t want to make,” including such iconic albums as Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes and John Hartford’s Aereo Plain.
Though the Grand Ole Opry continues to use the likeness of Hank Williams prominently, he was never reinstated as a member after being dismissed in 1952. The understanding was that Hank would sober up and make a triumphant return to the Opry that he so loved, but he died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29 and never got the opportunity. Hank’s grandson Hank Williams III started a movement called “Reinstate Hank” that now boasts over 54,000 signatures on its online petition. (photo courtesy of minnemynx)
Wanting to take creative control of his music and to be released from the budgetary restraints of the studio, Hank Williams III did the unprecedented for an artist signed to a major country music record label under the CMA umbrella. He took a a Korg D-1600–a consumer-grade piece of recording gear–and cut his record Straight to Hell in the house of his bass player, Joe Buck. It was the underground mentality brought to the mainstream, with the result being Hank3′s magnum opus.
(from left to right: Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III, Joe Buck)
On Saturday November 17th, two of the most important acts in underground country played what very well could be their final shows. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, a band that was there at the very beginning of underground country and the revitalization of the lower Broadway in Nashville announced they are calling it quits after 16 years, at least for now, playing their final show at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge. Meanwhile in Covington, Kentucky, Unknown Hinson, one of underground country’s greatest ambassadors from his work on Cartoon Network’s Squidbillies, played his final show as a touring act after 17 years, saying he was done, “Period.”
Both these acts had their specific reasons for calling it quits, and certainly the door is open for them to return. And for JD Wilkes, the long-time front man of The Shack Shakers, he still has his Dirt Daubers routine which has apparently retooled to a more electric sound. But you add these huge, high-profile, highly-important artists leaving on top of bands like .357 String Band dissolving, Sunday Valley re-aligning, and Leroy Virgil losing all his original players in Hellbound Glory, and all of a sudden underground country feels like it’s fighting a war of attrition, and losing.
I have been struggling to write this article for almost two years, but have been putting it off because there’s some hard things to say, and I didn’t want to “talk down” a movement that was already trying to deal with pretty alarming trends. But I think that especially now, zooming out and trying to be honest and critical in a constructive way is important, because there is positively no doubt that underground country is dying, and has been for years.
Why? Here are some ideas.
An aging fan base and aging artists
There are exceptions of course, but if you look at who comprises the underground country movement, it is predominantly people in their 30′s, and people from lower incomes. And what do people do in their 30′s? They settle down, they get married and have kids, they get better and more stable jobs, they buy houses. This gives them less time to spend partying, hanging out on the internet talking about music, going to shows on weeknights. In your 30′s, instead of being able to hit every underground country show rolling through town, you have to pick that one show a month you want to attend and pay a babysitter.
The same goes for the artists making underground country music. As they age, their motivations to keep working at music that doesn’t seem to want to stick commercially begin to fade. Health concerns begin to become an issue, and not being able to afford health insurance is a real concern. This was one of the primary issues facing the Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. Yearning for more stability is a recurring theme in the attrition underground country is facing in its talent roster, from banjo player Joe Huber of the .357 String Band, to drummer Chico from Hellbound Glory.
Something else worth noting is the large sect of sober people who make up underground country, in both the artist and fan ranks. Over time, some people must move away from the music and party scenes to find their sobriety, and others may just not identify any more with music that tends to have foundations in a party lifestyle.
Meanwhile the infusion of youth into underground country is anemic. There are some exceptions. The Boomswagglers from Texas and The Slaughter Daughters are promising, young bands, and artists like Lucky Tubb and Wayne Hancock have been integrating side musicians into the scene for some time. But they rarely stick, partly because of a general lack of support. Any younger musician if they’re smart doesn’t attempt to start their rise in underground country, which seems to be trending down and never had much long-term infrastructure to begin with. They look towards Americana, or the Texas/Red Dirt scene, or bluegrass, where the support is much easier to count on.
A Lack of Leadership
Since the beginning of underground country, if you looked at the top of the pyramid you saw Hank Williams III, and that is still the case in regards to records sales and concert tickets sold in any given year. But in 2008, Hank3 took over a year off from the road, and shortly after he started touring again, he stopped carrying opening bands. Then he put out a succession of albums of questionable quality, and all of a sudden a career on the rise has been stagnant for going on 5 years, and same goes for the the scene that revolves around it.
It was not Saving Country Music or Free Hank III, or even MySpace that comprised the first information portal about underground country. It was Hank3′s “Cussin’ Board” forum. And people didn’t go there just for Hank3 news, but news about all the underground country bands, with artists like JB Beverley and Rachel Brooke participating in the discussions regularly. These days, the “Cussin’ Board” feels like a ghost town compared to its vibrant past.
Shooter Jennings has stepped up in the last two years to attempt to fill the leadership vacuum left by Hank3, and has done some positive things and had some marginal success. But his polarization has kept him from completing the task of becoming a solid leader everyone can look up to. Similarly, where Hank3 was once the most unifying factor in underground country, his obvious step back from the “scene” has now made him a polarizing figure as well, questionably capable of taking back the reigns of underground country even if he was motivated to, and which he’s shown positively no signs of wanting to do. I can’t blame Hank3 for wanting to take a step back, because there were so many people wanting to take from him, believing his name was their stepping stone to success.
Leadership must come from the artists, and it must come from the music first, and that is Shooter Jennings’ inherent problem. This was illustrated when he cut the “Drinking Side of Country” duet with Bucky Covington, or on his industrial rock album Black Ribbons. Whether you like these Shooter projects or not, they illustrate his lack of consistency that has lead to his ineptness as a leader of underground country, and his acute polarization that reaches as far as Eric Church fans, and fans of his father. Hank3 never professed himself a leader. He led by example, and used causes like Reinstate Hank to lead the charge of taking country music back.
The Scene Has Replaced The Movement
One of the reasons an underground of country music was founded was from a wide ranging dissent about the direction of country music. This dissent is where the varying range of musical styles united, taking the country punk of Hank3, the neo-traditional approach of Wayne Hancock, the Texas/Outlaw country of Dale Watson, the bluegrass of the .357 String Band, the blues of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and the Gothic country of Those Poor Bastards and piling them all together in the overall underground country movement. It was united by issues, like the reinstatement of Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry, the opening and extension of the Williams Family Exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the fight for creative freedom of artists from record labels, and the fight against the infiltration of pop on country radio.
Now these issues that defined, united, and energized the country music underground are seen as tired, if not counter-productive or annoying to many in the underground population. When issues arose with the sale of the Grand Ole Opry to Marriott International, or the changing of Billboard’s chart rules, the underground met them with apathy, if not anger at them being offered up as relevant to their music world. Issues are what made outreach possible for underground country, and now exclusivity seems to be what is yearned for by the majority of underground country fans. The “we have our music, screw the masses” attitude is what prevails, taking away one of the primary promotional tools for independent-minded underground ideals to reach out to other country music fans who also might be feeling disenfranchised with the mainstream.
Scenes and Cliques
Image and exclusivity seem to be the important dynamics in today’s country music underground, dragging on the commercial viability of the music, and making it hard for outsiders to integrate with the underground country culture. Though some on the outside looking in may enjoy the music, they may not understand the verbiage, anecdotes, and style that seem to be important with “fitting in” to the underground. So as long-time underground country fans taper off because of age, no new blood is there to take their place.
Facebook has also narrowed the perspectives of underground country fans, making them feel like how you present yourself is more important than what you do. An unhealthy culture of cloistered, inbred cross-promotion prevails through underground country, where small cliques of fans and bands have formed around labels, blogs, and podcasts, catering content to a select few.
These cliques promote each other within the clique, and at times may branch out farther to the “scene,” but rarely reach new blood because they are based on narrow perspectives and anecdotal experiences. It’s an “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” culture where quality and creativity are lightly regarded compared to political importance in the scene. And if you don’t participate in this culture of narrow, ineffective promotion of the other people in the scene or clique, you risk being ostracized. Intention is measured over effectiveness. These cliques and their differences have also given rise to eternal conflict, with the bigger overall “Shooter fans vs. Hank3 fans” splitting underground country squarely in half.
Saving Country Music, and I specifically have at times enhanced or enabled unnecessary “scene” drama, and this has potentially affected the fate of underground country adversely.
There are lot’s of entities in underground country and roots who attempt to promote music that seem to get lost in promoting their branding and merch first, and the music second. There are many general reasons underground country is dying, but the specific one is lack of money. Underground country is funded by the $40 hoodie, and this creates a paradox for the music that is supposed to be the focus.
Though there is lots of talk about shared responsibility for keeping underground music alive, and there’s many folks who re-post bulletins on Facebook, take pictures and videos of shows, run podcasts, or boutique “labels” attempting to make a difference in the music, the effect is confined to cliques and micro-scenes, and is more catered to serving the few and propagating image and branding.
For example the Pickathon Festival in Portland that caters to a wide variety of independent roots movements, including underground country, boasts over 300 volunteers annually. The Muddy Roots Festival, which almost exclusively caters to underground country and roots had roughly a dozen volunteers this last year, with multiple people who signed up to volunteer to get discounted or free tickets either not working their shifts, walking off their shifts, or generally being unhelpful. Pickathon’s issues with people sneaking onto the site are marginal. Muddy Roots’ issues of people sneaking on site without paying are major. The most helpful volunteers at the 2012 Muddy Roots were a representative from a hair gel sponsor, and the Voodoo Kings Car Club who have very few ties to the music.
There seems to be little understanding that if bands, labels, and festivals are going to continue to exist, there must be a shared sacrifice from the fans. And not just symbolic sacrifice, but substantive efforts to offer real support to the entities making the music happen. Without any corporate funding, that’s how an underground music movement works.
A Lack of Creativity
Underground country was founded on creativity. The creativity found on albums such as Hank3′s Straight to Hell, Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorms & Neon Signs, Dale Watson’s Live in London, and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers’ Cockadoodledon’t is what caused a country music underground to form in the first place. In the mid 2000′s, you could confidently say that the creativity in underground country outlasted that of the mainstream per capita. These days underground country is mired in trying to recapture that creativity, in a practice that lends to the aping of styles and the rehashing of themes. Capturing a “punk gone country,” “honky tonk Outlaw”, or “old-time” aesthetic seems more important than carving out a new creative niche like the originators of underground country did.
Meanwhile any true creativity existing in underground country quickly evolves beyond it to greener pastures in Texas country or Americana, like Justin Townes Earle did. The lack of infrastructure, the presence of scenesters, and the general disorganization of the underground dissuades talented artist from associating themselves with it. Americana, Red Dirt, Texas, and West Coast circuits offer much more hospitable and palatable scenes, while underground country generally discourages cross-pollination with these kindred, independent-minded movements, misunderstanding them as either mainstream, or too high-minded for the music they like.
A step removed from the influence of the scene, Europe continues to thrive and grow their support for underground country. There seems to be more general thankfulness that underground country music exists in Europe, and a stronger focus on the music itself instead of the scene that surrounds it. There’s more support, more of a volunteering attitude, and more of a willingness to help make the music happen by the fans. Europe continues to be the most commercially-viable place for many underground country bands to tour and sell albums, and that support is continuing to grow.
A Few Breakout Bands
Bands like Larry & His Flask, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and The Goddamn Gallows have found some decent success over the past few years playing on some bigger tours like The Warped Tour and opening for The Reverend Horton Heat. Bob Wayne has found traction in Europe and domestically being singed with label Century Media. Justin Townes Earle is now a big concert draw, and Scott Biram is getting his music played on television shows.
But many of these artists are moving on from the traditional underground country infrastructure to find their success, and others like Leroy Virgil and Sturgill Simpson still seem to be one step behind where their creative potential should be taking them commercially.
Festival & Touring Infrastructure
This is something underground country was lacking for years, and now has a healthy dose of. Unfortunately rising gas prices and dwindling crowds sometimes means it’s too little too late for some bands. The reason Unknown Hinson says he quit touring was because it was costing him too much money.
There are more festivals in all shapes and sizes catering to underground country and roots than ever before. But again, with a dwindling fan base, these different festivals are competing with each other for the same anemic and contracting population.
The Deep Blues
The Deep Blues seems to be on a more sustainable path, and also seems to be able to divest itself from the drama that is confounding underground country. However since it shares much of the same infrastructure as underground country, the issues in underground country can bleed over to the deep blues as well. There is better sustainability in Deep Blues, but the growth is still marginal. In many ways, the Deep Blues is the only thing keeping underground country alive, and that could hinder Deep Blues from moving forward as it drags underground country along.
What Can Be Done To Save Underground Country
To save underground country there must be a renewed interest in finding and developing younger bands, attracting younger fans, and focusing on talent and creativity over forming exclusive scenes. “Young” should not be mistaken for the same connotations it carries in mainstream country. Talent and creativity should still remain key, as well as trying to reach the folks that “get it.” But if underground country wants to continue to remain a viable part of the overall country music landscape, it must recruit new bands and new listeners to replace the natural contraction within its population.
Underground country must quit being so reactionary about the outside world. It must diversify. It must find common ground, common struggle, and common tastes with Americana, Red Dirt, and Texas music, and promote its best and brightest talent to those worlds and then reciprocate. It must stick to its founding principles of preserving the roots of the music and fighting for creative control for artists, and seize on the opportunities current events create to promote those principles to the rest of the music world, promoting the music of underground country by proxy.
It needs leadership, big bands, breakout albums and songs that breathe new fervor into the movement. It needs and end to the “I got mine” mentality.
And it needs it now, before it ends up like Communism: a great idea whose devil is in the application.
On Tuesday morning (9-25-12) Gaylord Entertainment, the owners of The Grand Ole Opry and its various assets will conduct a board meeting to finalize their sale to Marriott International for $210 million and restructure the company into an REIT or Real Estate Investment Trust. Though the deal has been opposed by the two top investors in Gaylord, TRT Holdings and Gabelli Funds, the deal is expected to go through by most experts, but you never know what can happen.
TRT Holdings, Gaylord’s biggest shareholder, had to be bought out make Gaylord’s REIT restructuring possible, and the other big investor Gabelli wants Gaylord to spin off the company’s Grand Ole Opry investments before the restructure, worried these assets will get smothered in a real estate model. With the TRT buyout, Gaylord will likely have the shareholder votes to make the deal go through.
But sitting on the sidelines seems to be the fans of country music and their best interests. Tuesday will be the first time since 1982–when Gaylord purchased The Grand Ole Opry, WSM, and all of it’s various properties–that The Opry will have an opportunity to be free of a larger company’s control, a company that must meet shareholder’s demands, and figure out how to fit an old, historic institution into a modern-day corporate management structure.
Many diehard and purist fans of country music have been saying that The Grand Ole Opry has been mismanaged for years. They feel disenfranchised by the Opry’s recent moves of showcasing more pop, and more younger members of the country music industry. Others cite various causes like the Stonewall Jackson lawsuit that exposed the Opry dilemma of how to handle aging talent, or the campaign to Reinstate Hank to the Opry.
But where is this opposition in the argument for the Opry’s fate that could very well be decided tomorrow? They seem curiously absent. Instead of anger at what has become of arguably country music’s most important institution, there seems to be apathy and resignation to the fact that it is over, that the Opry will never return to its prominence of the past, or to a healthier balance, where both young, up-and-coming talent, as well as aging and traditional country artists share the billing.
But this quite possibly is the moment when the tide has turned. How much influence can the country music public have on the sale of a company? None if they don’t speak up in favor or opposition, but for the first time, they have the business men who make the decisions on their side, echoing the same sentiments Gaylord detractors have for years about Gaylord mismanagement.
The shuttering of The Ryman Auditorium for 20 years would have never happened without the complicit nature of the country music public. The Opry will never fit well in a modern-day corporate structure, and like shareholder Gabelli points out, things could get worse under the new system.
When Gaylord initially purchased the Opry in 1982, there were concerns then about how it would be managed in Gaylord’s complex and diverse portfolio. Marriott showed interest in the Opry in 1982 also, and so did MCA and Anheuser-Busch before passing on the deal, unable to resolve how to take the complex Opry assets and manage them fairly and efficiently. That’s when Gaylord recognized the power of the “Opry” brand and pounced, and since has been poorly managing assets that don’t fit in its structure as a media company, and now as a real estate company.
The folks opposed to the current direction of the Opry should be salivating at this opportunity instead of being resigned to the loss. Maybe it is because of the complexity of the Opry/Gaylord/Marriott deal; they just don’t understand how ripe the moment is. This is the time to be in full throat, to be most vocal. This is the time to be marching on the temple and overturning the tables of the money changers who’ve set up shop in the Opry institution.
Shareholders and bylaws can say whatever they want about who owns the Opry, but the true owners of the Opry will always be the people of country music. Without them attending the shows and listening to the programs, the Opry doesn’t exist. And for the first time in years, there’s allies in the boardroom, parroting similar sentiments to Gaylord’s detractors, not from a heartfelt love from the traditions of country music, but from very cold and concrete analyses of business and management.
At the same time, it is also time for pragmatism. Bad words and calls for bowls of blood have done nothing to re-engage the Grand Ole Opry with the roots of the music, they’ve only typecast the arguments against Gaylord’s ownership regime. The Opry must keep the institution relevant by showcasing younger, popular stars. What must be yearned for is balance, where young, traditional and neo-tradional stars, as well as older stars still putting out relevant material are given equal footing. The Opry needs to re-emerge as the fulcrum in a country music farm system to evaluate and develop emerging talent in an industry that has become creatively stagnant.
And this vote on Tuesday may not be the end of this fight, but only the beginning. As Gaylord restructures into an REIT, the opportunity will linger, if not present itself even more that the Opry assets must be spun off for the health of the Opry, Gaylord, and the new Marriott parent company.
This is not the time to sit back and let Gaylord tighten their reigns on Opry control, it’s time to point out that Edison Research says folks want more classic country, that the Reinstate Hank petition now has over 53,000 signatures. And that what the Opry needs, just like Gabelli says, is autonomy, or an owner who cares.
The Grand Ole Opry is the founding institution of country music, and will always be worth fighting for.
This is a questions I get here at Saving Country Music quite often. The mythology and legacy of the Hank Williams name is so robust, some folks just can’t imagine it ever coming to an end. But getting to the answer I found to be a complicated task.
The requirement is simple though. For someone to be a true Hank Williams, they would need to be a son of Hank Williams III, and that son would need to be named Hank, at least in some way. However, Hank Sr.’s real name was Hiram King, which he changed to Hank, thinking it would be better for country music. The ‘Hank’ in Hank Jr. and Hank3′s name comes from their given middle name, not their first name: Randall Hank Williams and Shelton Hank Williams respectively.
We do know that Hank3 has at least one son, who he’s spoken about many times in reference to a paternal suit he was hit with when his son was 5, which resulted in him signing his music contract with Curb Records and getting professionally involved in country music. However at this point, that son, who is now somewhere around 20-years-old, is not involved in music, and was not named Hank or Williams, rather taking the name of his mother. At some point if he wanted to get involved in music, he could decide to take the Hank Williams stage name, and that would create a new set of debate points, but at this point, he is not Hank IV.
To further muddy the waters, there is a punk band out of San Francisco, CA called ‘Hank IV’, and it is not just some basement project, but an active band, putting out albums, garnering press, that has been around for years. I remember years ago rolling up to Hank IV’s MySpace site, and almost mocking to the situation, it said they wanted to take the name just in case Hank3 had a son that wanted to get into music. In November 2010, Hank IV released their third album entitled ‘III’, very similar to the moniker ‘III’ or three bars Hank3 used before changing recently to ‘Hank3′ to denote the new era of his career post-Curb Records. In fairness to Hank IV, the first thing on their MySpace site now is the disclaimer: “HANK IV is a San Francisco rock band still with no relation whatsoever to the Hank Williams clan.” So without question, San Fran’s ‘Hank IV’ is not the Hank IV we are looking for.
That leads us to a 13-year-old country music prodigy from Montgomery, AL named Ricky Fitzgerald. Ricky is an excellent young performer, who with haunting proficiency, can belt out the best of Hank Williams, as can be seen in this video taken in 2009 from the Wagon House Opry in Haddock, GA that proclaims him the “real Hank IV” in the title:
If you go to the URL for this video and read the comments (at the posting of this article), there is a comment that states:
He came to my venue, and I spoke with his family. He is a bastard child of Hank III, which is the story I got, Taken name is Ricky Fitzgerald, however he in fact is related and is Hank IV.
Furthermore, on this web page, it asserts that there is a Parham Henry Williams IV who is “…Hank III’s son out of wedlock, who is also following in Hank Williams’ footsteps.” But when you click on the Parham name, it takes you back to the above video for Ricky Fitzgerald. Ricky has performed at many of the small Opry houses throughout the deep south, as well as the Nashville Palace in Nashville, TN, and the Hank Williams Museum and Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana, AL. He also apparently makes an appearance in the currently-dormant documentary about the Reinstate Hank movement, where he is presented as Hank IV.
But when you go to Ricky Fitzgerald’s website, there is no mention of ‘Hank IV’. Numerous attempts from Saving Country Music to reach representatives of Ricky Fitzgerald have gone unanswered, and his website has not been updated in about a year. If at some point Ricky or his representatives were using the name ‘Hank IV’, they apparently are no longer. Nowhere is there any evidence that Ricky Fitzgerald or anyone else is the real ‘Hank IV’. From my understanding, Ricky does have some distant blood relation to Hank Williams, possibly from Hank Sr.’s uncle, but he is not Hank3′s bastard son. When I interviewed Hank3 recently, I asked him about Ricky Fitzgerald, and the possibility of any Hank IV’s:
No, absolutely not. The only Hank IV I’ve ever heard about was Howard Stern’s old midget drunk. I know for a fact there’s no other unclaimed children out there. Anybody that was a bastard son, you know they’d be coming after me for money.
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So in closing, the answer is … no. Unless Hank3 has a son in the future and decides to name it ‘Hank’, the Hank Williams name will end with Hank3.
The movement to reinstate Hank Williams into the Grand Ole Opry, or Reinstate Hank, was started by Hank Williams III shortly after preforming on the Grand Ole Opry for the 50th Anniversary of Hank Sr.’s passing in January of 2003. From the stage the youngest Hank said “So you’re going to be hearing a lot of Hank Williams songs tonight, but keep one thing in mind. After all this time, maybe it’s time we can get Hank Williams back, reinstated in the Grand Ole Opry. That would be a dream come true for a lot of people.”
Shortly afterward Hank3 talked to the President of the Opry, who Hank3 says told him, “We’ll never reinstate a dead guy.” In February of that year, an online petition was started to Reinstate Hank that now boasts over 50,900 signatures, including the signatures of Hank3, and Hank Jr’s daughters Hillary and Holly. But Hank Jr’s name remains conspicuously absent, and his public affiliation or support of the movement was thought to remain absent as well.
Hank3 and Hank Jr. have always had a strained relationship, and it became even more strained years later on a night when Hank3 was playing at The Bluegrass Inn on lower Broadway in Nashville, while Hank Jr. was down the road, performing at The Opry. Hank3 talked about the exchange of text messages that happened that night in the book Family Tradition: Three Generations of Hank Williams.
What I actually said was, “I hope you find somewhere else better to play than The Grand Ole Opry, until they show respects to your father.” And Hank Jr’s reply was, “Well, I’m done with The Opry.”
Shortly thereafter, Hank Jr. and Holly were asked to perform at the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of their ongoing exhibit “Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy”. In the video below, Hank Jr., under his purple long sleeve shirt, is clearly sporting a Reinstate Hank shirt, like the ones sold at Hank3 shows.
Hank Jr.’s song “The Conversation” carried the first public outcry for how the Grand Ole Opry had handled the late and great Hank Williams.
Back then they called him crazy, now a days they call him a saint
Most folks don’t know that they fired him from the Opry
And that caused his greatest pain
But for 5 years, for whatever reason, Hank Jr. remained silent about his son’s Reinstate Hank mission. He still might feel the need to veil his true feelings as a high-dollar, high-profile legacy country music celebrity franchise. But when you look deep down in Hank Jr.’s chest, you can tell where his heart is.
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Thanks to Adam Sheets of No Depression for alerting me to the video.
When Hank Williams III started his country music career in the late 90′s, his neo-traditionalist sound and spitting image of his grandfather awakened the imagination of country music traditionalists that we were seeing the resurrection of the King of country music himself. With a similar style of yodel and moan, and the ability to write simple, but heartfelt and true songs, Hank III seemed the best equipped to carry on the Hank Williams legacy.
These days the yodel is gone, and Hank3 might be better known for his blending of country with punk and metal influences than his simple, neo-traditional approach, but with his campaign to Reinstate Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry and willingness to call out elements of the country establishment who threaten the preservation of its roots regardless of the outcome of his career, Hank3 is still taking the point in the fight for preservation of the Hank Williams legacy.
That is why when the Lost Notebook of Hank Williams project was announced, many Hank 3 fans, and many others familiar with Hank3′s work were wondering where his name was in the track list. If anybody was qualified to finish a work started by Hank Williams nearly 60 years ago, it would be him. In an interview with Adam Sheets on No Depression, Hank3 ended the speculation on if he had been asked to be a part of the project, and gave his thoughts on people completing his grandfather’s unfinished songs.
…I wasn’t asked and the only thing that rubs me wrong is I hear that certain people might be completing unfinished songs and that just doesn’t seem that right to me. You know, that’s the only thing I have to say about it. I have nothing against Bob Dylan, nothing against Jack White, any of those kind of people. It just seems strange for somebody to be given that opportunity to say they’ve co-written a song with Hank Williams 50 years later of whatever. You know, that thing’s been in the works for a long time…
Who knows why [he wasn't asked to be part of the project]? Maybe they think, ‘well, he’s been out there doin’ his own thing so much…When you’re dealin’ with all that business and the Bible belt and the ways certain people think, man, it gets pretty complicated. I don’t know. It’s not like some normal tribute record. There’s a lot of weird elements to this thing and it keeps comin’ up in interviews I’ve been doin’. I don’t know. I’ll just say the same thing: it seems a little strange for somebody to finish a half-finished Hank Williams song.
Family Tradition, The Three Generations of Hank Williams, a new book by Susan Masino chronicling the lives of Hank Williams, Hank Jr., and Hank III, was just released today via Backbeat Books. Though the book isn’t chock full of brand new revelations about the older two Hanks–Masino instead delves in depth for the first time about how the themes of their lives are intertwined–she was given “unprecedented access” to Hank III, and being the first print book to deal with his story in detail, it carries a lot of before unknown facts and information about the youngest Hank Williams.
Hank III talks candidly about his upbringing, and his molestation as a child by his great uncle (that he sings about in his song “Candidate for Suicide” off the album Damn Right, Rebel Proud):
My mom always told my grandmother, “Never let Shelton go away with him . . . ever.”
Hank III also talks about his feuds with Shooter Jennings and Kid Rock, and his long contentious relationship with his father, Hank Jr. The story Hank III tells is of a father barely in the picture, not giving him any financial or emotional support. One story involves Hank III trying to see him before Hank Jr. departed on his private jet.
. . . I was five minutes late and they couldn’t wait because I was stopping to buy a cowboy hat and they took off and left on the plane. So I remember crying over that at a pretty young age…
So I went down to Music Row and got a manager, Jack McFadden–He’s managed Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Billy Ray Cyrus, so I thought I would be on his level, a little bit. He said, “Shelton, I want to deal with Mike Curb because he’s in Nashville more than he’s in California or New York.” I said okay… I signed on the dotted line, didn’t do much research on the contract, because I believed Jack had my best interest. Sure enough, he didn’t.
The other institution Hank III has done battle with is The Grand Ole Opry through his Reinstate Hank campaign. Though Hank III talks about being mostly influenced early on by rock bands like Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne, his mom in the book says, “Since he was four, he says he wants to be on The Grand Ole Opry.” Hank III’s stance on wanting Hank Sr. reinstated to the Opry came between him and Hank Jr. when III was playing on Broadway in Nashville at The Bluegrass Inn one night, and Jr. was playing down the street at the Opry:
What I actually said was, “I hope you find somewhere else better to play than The Grand Ole Opry, until they show respects to your father. And Hank Jr’s reply was, “Well, I’m done with The Opry.”
Hank III also talks about his future, now that he is done with Curb Records, and his newly-kindled relationship with his son, who was the reason Hank III signed a music deal in the first place.
“I finally got to be reunited with him after all of these years, just a couple of years ago.” While Hank III was shopping for clothes, the woman behind the counter said, “You probably don’t recognize me, but I am am the mother of your child.” Hank III explained. “I said it was nice to talk to her without having to go through a lawyer.”
About being free of Curb:
“It’s like a new beginning that will be great on one hand, and on the other hand it’s going to be awful as far as control, stress, taxes–and I don’t have that great of a business team behind me. So that makes it a little more complicated.
Family Tradition is a good read, and a full review of the book is upcoming.
There’s been lots of talk lately here and other places about what makes an Outlaw, who are the real Outlaws, who are the fake ones. Well Nancy Dunham from The Boot had Merle Haggard cornered and answering questions, and was bold enough to ask him some smart ones, and Merle replied with some bold, smart answers.
Outlaw country artists are people like Willie Nelson who write music their way and not because of some special grooming. Johnny Cash wasn’t made in a grooming school and the next Johnny Cash won’t be found that way. The writers now pick about two guys at a time and [work with them] and come back with a song at five that evening. That is the way they like to see [country stars made]. Sometimes it works. But I don’t think they found Elvis Presley that way and I don’t think Hank Williams was found that way. Hank didn’t do it that way at all.
There are a couple young guys who want to. They’re really trying. Joe Nichols, he is sure trying to and there are a lot of guys that are different enough that they make their own music. You can tell it. There’s got to be somebody in the corning fixing to spring out and save the day. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Did you know that Merle Haggard is NOT a member of the Grand Ole Opry?
Merle made a list that includes Wilie Nelson, George Strait, Hank Williams, Dwight Yoakam, and many others that appeared on examiner.com’s Lexington site, in an extensive article about how the Grand Ole Opry is possibly shunning legends in lieu of the quick dollar from hot acts. And yes, Reinstate Hank comes up.
It is a fact that the Opry is a business that is out to make money. When Carrie Underwood performs, it is pretty much a guaranteed sell out, even without a convention or tour buses lining the pavement. Furthermore, there are the infamous missteps and questions of “why” did they make the decision. . . . Years later, the Opry would go on to fire Williams in hopes that he would sober up. Sadly, he would pass away one haunting evening in the backseat of a car. Over the years, the Grand Ole Opry would continue to use his image in promoting their history over the years. Even with a campaign to reinstate Hank, the Opry has shunned away any progress to reinduct Hank Sr as a member of the Opry.
In the 7 page spread, Waits recounts seeing Hank III for the first time at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, CA:
“I had heard he does a country set that bore an eerily physical and vocal resemblance to his grandfather, Hank Williams Sr. It is not an impersonation, but it does contain the blue spark of the family jewels. So, I got to be transported, and how well I was. Kidnapped. Willingly.”
There is also an extensive Q&A between III and Waits where they discuss music, guitars, the “Haunted Ranch” that III calls home, working on chicken farms, and much more.
Waits:“So you’re self made in spite of your history and your lineage. You’re like country royalty, so you’re like the Strange Prince.”
Hank III:“I could have taken the easy road but the hard road is more me. I’ve always had that independent streak in me. I went to Franklin Rebel High School and that’s what my granddad did, he marched to his own beat and that’s what my dad did…no video, no airplay and we made it in Billboards Top 10, man. And shaking those hands and saying hello is what did it.”
Many pictures taken by Hank III are also included, as well as an extensive write up called “Sing Him Back Home” about the Reinstate Hank movement.
Mojo Magazine is based in London and the issue has been available in Europe for some time. There are a few places where it is already available in the US, but it will be fully released in July, and is available at Barnes & Noble.
For Hank III to get such ringing endorsements from arguably one of the greatest songwriters and performers of our generation with such a tremendous level of critical acclaim and appreciation, and then add the exposure to the Reinstate Hank movement, this article is the proverbial promotional cash cow for Hank III, and by proxy, all related bands.
Hank III’s music is also featured in the latest episode of HBO’s True Blood.
Thanks to Restless in Amsterdam, mattNYSH from the Cussin Board and other European REAL country fans for helping to get the word about this interview back to the States.
Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr. and half sister of Hank Williams III, signed the petition to Reinstate Hank Williams into the Grand Ole Opry after a show in Paradiso, Amsterdam earlier this week. After playing a set that included the Hank Sr. songs “I Saw The Light” and “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry,” Holly was approached by Reinstate Hank lieutenant Restless in Amsterdam who asked her to sign. Holly’s new husband and backing musician Chris Coleman signed as well.
Though not a big commercial success, Holly’s latest album Here With Me has had some critical acclaim, with The Boot naming it the #3 album of 2009, and The 9513.com calling it the #96 album of the decade.
Aside from Hank III who began the movement to Reinstate Hank, Holly is the only other direct blood relation to Hank Sr. to sign the petition. Hank Jr. has not signed, but recently after appearing at The Opry on January 8th, Hank Jr. sent Hank III a text message saying “I’m done with the Opry.” Hank III had been pleading with his father not to make the appearance to protest The Opry’s stance on not reinstating Hank Sr. Holly performed at The Opry on January 8th as well.
The talented Texas Singer-Songwriter Brigitte London has been doing a new podcast for outlawmagazine.com, and asked me recently if I could do a PSA for the movement to get Hank Williams reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry, or Reinstate Hank.
Of course I was easily cajoled into doing so, but as I was putting it together I thought why just put this on one podcast? It should be on many podcasts. And why just limit it to podcasts? Aren’t there still some independent radio stations left out there with real living humans spinning tunes, and wouldn’t their listeners be shocked to find out that Hank Williams isn’t a member of the Grand Ole Opry?
So I’m trying to spread this little piece of audio out like a bad rash, but you can help as well. Copy it to your own computer, and send it to your favorite country radio station, or your favorite podcast, whatever. Let’s get this thing spread far and wide. And if you can’t figure out how to get it off the site, email me through MySpace or Twitter and I’ll send it to you directly.
It is set exactly at 45 seconds, so it is ideal for broadcasting.
When Hank Williams III’s album Damn Right, Rebel Proud went to #2 in the charts last year, this was a significant development in the movement to Reinstate Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry because of the first track, “The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand),” was a song protesting the Grand Ole Opry’s stance.
But believe it or not, this wasn’t the first song to call out the Opry for firing Hank and never reinstating him. That honor belongs to Hank Jr. and Waylon Jennings in the song, The Conversation. The chorus goes:
“Well back then they called him crazy, now days they call him a saint
Now the ones that called him crazy, are still ridin’ on his name
Back then they called him crazy, now a days they call him a saint
Most folks don’t know that they fired him from the Opry
And that caused his greatest pain
I’ve heard some criticize Hank Jr.’s music because it seems like he evokes his daddy’s name at nausea. On that point I would defend Jr., because you might talk at nausea about your daddy if he was Hank Williams too. But my question is if Hank Jr. feels like The Opry firing Hank Sr. caused him his greatest pain, and that the Opry is still riding off his name, why wouldn’t he at the least lend his John Hancock to the movement to reinstate him?
And where is the signature of Hank III’s half sister Holly, and Jr.’s sister Jett? I know the answer is simple: the politics of Nashville. Hank Jr., Holly and Jett all have reputations and careers to protect. But don’t they owe at least some, if not most of their career success to the Hank Williams name? There are over 42,000 signatures on the Reinstate Hank Petition and more on the physical petition, and only one from Hank Sr.’s immediate family.
And to do themselves one worse, on January 8th, Hank Jr. and Holly performed at the Grand Ole Opry; the place that “caused his (Hank Sr.) greatest pain” in Hank Jr.’s own words. This was against the wishes of Hank III, who has been boycotting the Opry since he started Reinstate Hank on the Opry stage during a Hank Williams tribute.
In some ways the Reinstate Hank movement seems stronger than ever. The signature numbers keep growing, and the word is spreading through a rabidly strong grass roots network. However to some Reinstate Hank means something more that just getting Hank Williams back in the Opry. It represents an element that is rife with swear words, drug references, and disrespect towards institutions. There are thousands of Hank Sr. fans who’ve probably never uttered a curse word, and would never be caught dead at a Hank III concert. The same reason Hank Jr.’s signature is not on the petition is probably the same reason theirs aren’t.
Hank III himself has said himself in interviews that his “Grand Ole Opry” song is “immature” and “may not be very helpful.” I think it helped greatly in some circles, but probably hurt in others. But the movement to Reinstate Hank is about something that everyone should be able to get behind, regardless of who started it. This movement is not about Hank III, it is about Hank Williams, and I think the movement would benefit from delineating that, and respecting any and all people whose common thread is a love for the music of Hank Williams.
Well tonight is a pretty big night in podcast land. First I am happy to announce that one of my favorite podcasters, Tim Pop of Tim Pop Live is debuting a spanking new podcast tonight called Rebel Rouser Country. It is going to air weekly on realpunkradio.com, Tuesdays at 7 PM EST.
And for his first show Tim Pop is going to treat us to a Hank Williams tribute, which only seems fitting. Tim Pop has been a big supporter of the Reinstate Hank movement, and though he’s always been a punk podcaster first, he was one of the FIRST to recognize the cross appeal of REAL country music and the punk scene.
Can’t tell you how excited I am about this show.
Izzy is the former lead guitar player for Wayne “The Train” Hancock and played all of the lead guitar on Wayne’s latest album Viper of Melody. He was kicked out of the band in April after an altercation with steel guitar player Tony Locke. Whose fault the fight was depends on who you talk to, but we can all agree that Tony, who was put in the hospital, received the worse end.
Izzy is a wildly talented guitar player without question, and so far what I have heard of the new band is good stuff. But when I interviewed Wayne Hancock in August, he told me Izzy was black balled from the scene. So the big question is, will Izzy’s reputation precede him? We might get some answers tonight, and I have a copy of the album on the way and will be seeing them live myself in a couple of weeks. If Outlaw Radio doesn’t throw him some hard balls, I just might have to.
(For details on the Hank Williams birthday contest, click here.)
A lot of us involved in the Reinstate Hank Williams movement talk at length about his importance to The Grand Ole Opry and country music. But we may not emphasize his importance on music as a whole, or on American culture and even the culture of the world enough.
To give an example of this I want to tell a story.
A few weeks back you may have noticed my blogs dried up a little bit. That is because I was on a music tour with a few other musicians. I didn’t talk about it because I don’t like to talk about myself here, and it was more of a rock than a country project.
But one of the people I was touring with was this underground artist from New York named Paleface. He was one of the founding members of the New York anti-folk scene, a scene that created artists like Beck. In 1991, Paleface was signed to a major label, and his manager was Danny Fields, the legendary manager for punk bands like The Ramones and The Stooges.
So here I was, hanging out with this guy born and raised in NYC, who played folk and rock, and cut his teeth hanging around punks. The last thing I expected to hear him play was a song canonizing Hank Williams, but there we were, the last day of the tour, and he’s playing a song called “Hank Williams From His Grave.” He wrote the song in 1991, and it was on his first album. I encouraged him to make a video of it, because the original version is no longer being published and is hard to get. So here he is performing the song with his drummer and squeeze, Monica Samalot, in a video they just released today, Sep. 17th, Hank Williams’ birthday:
That video is so poignant, I have goosebumps as I write this. Man. It is about destiny. It is such a wise way to look at the Hank Williams life. Pain ran through Hank’s lyrics and his voice, like they were the foundation of everything he did. Listening to this song, your reminded that Hank Williams was aware of his own mortality almost every waking minute. The fact that the last song he wrote was “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” exemplifies this, and just gives you chills.
And then how perfect was it that a train came rolling by the cemetery right in the middle of the song, but then left quickly, almost to pay tribute, but to not interrupt the moment. There was something American Gothic and soulful about that performance, and the life of Hank Williams.
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Later on that same night I first heard “Hank Williams From His Grave” we were in the heart of Hollywood, CA. We had arrived late and I was hungry so I dashed out the door looking for some cheap food. I’m a country rat, not a city rat, and any downtown disorients me, especially downtown Hollywood, but I found a cheap pizza place on the corner and went inside. After I was done eating I walked outside and looked both ways, trying to figure out where I needed to go to get back to the music venue. That is when I noticed that I was on Hollywood Boulevard, the one with all the famous stars on the sidewalk. Then I look down between my legs, and right outside of that pizza place, and no kidding, this is whose star I see:
It was complete coincidence. That was the only star I saw before I had to boogie. It was then and there I had an epiphany about Hank Williams. We all canonize him, sometimes at nauseum, but it just might be true that you cannot overstate Hank Williams’ impact on the American culture. His short life runs like a long thread through America, from the big city of New York, all the way across the country to the glitz of Hollywood. Wherever you look, Hank Williams is there.
One can only guess what American culture might look like, and sound like if Hank Williams had never lived. But my guess is it would have a lot less soul.
Happy Birthday Hank.
(You can check out Paleface on MySpace HERE, and stay tuned for an interview I did with him as well.)
The last few days has seen a small flurry of news concerning the movement to Reinstate Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry. The online petition is about to crest 40,000 signatures (or it might already have by the time you read this), which was a goal of the Reinstaters to reach by the end of the month.
But I wanted to give you my opinion about a viewpoint held by some about the Reinstate Hank movement. And these people aren’t pop country posers or Opry apologists. These are Hank Williams fans, and people that think what has happened to the Opry in recent years is a joke. In other words, they are good country music fans, they just don’t see the point in fighting the Reinstate Hank fight. Here is a great example from Jake of the Lonesome Drifters:
“It seems a lot of people are interested in trying to get Hank Williams Sr. reinstated back into the Grand Ole Opry. And while he definitely belongs in this group, I don’t think if he were alive today he would care at all. The Opry has turned into a joke in the last few years, and is inducting people as soon as they have a few popular radio songs. Why would Hank want to be in a group that accepts just about anyone? He doesn’t need to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry to be a badass. He already is. I talked to Wayne Hancock about this, and he feels the same way about the cause. Hank is the king of Country Music, and if the Opry doesn’t want him, then screw em, he doesn’t need them.”
First off I want to point out that Wayne Hancock has officially signed the petition. When I spoke to him in Colorado last month, we talked about Reinstate Hank off mic, and I have also talked to a few other big named underground country artists about it as well.
If you want to know why I think Hank Williams should be reinstated to the Opry, you can watch the video below, but I want to respond to this viewpoint because I am very aware and understanding of it. Why? Because when I started writing about the underground country movement, when I started Free Hank III, I believed it. I had NOT signed the petition. That’s right, The Triggerman had no desire to put his John Hancock on anything. “Screw the Grand Ole Opry” is what I thought. Why even act like we care what they do with that outmoded institution that has been overrun with money whores and marketeers?
But the more I thought about it, and specifically thought about country music in general, the more I understood why this movement was so important. Country music isn’t just a genre of music, it is a culture. Think about it like this: to people who are Jewish, being Jewish is not just their religion, it is their culture as well. The are Jewish people who are atheists. The same can be said in country music: it defines a culture AND a genre of music. Furthermore, the country genre has always been about preserving traditions; it is found in the style of the music and the themes of the lyrics. Rock music for example is all about breaking down traditions. This is not a knock on rock, just an observation. Rock breaks down traditions and inhibitions, and country preserves them.
Like a lot of underground/insurgent country fans, I am a fan of punk music as well. The punk philosophy embodies tearing down institutions and traditions. Again, that is fine, but you can’t take this same approach to country. It is a different world. All we have in country music is our institutions and traditions, especially now since the music itself has been hijacked by huge corporations and pop performers. My problem is not with the Opry, I love the Opry. My problem is with Gaylord Entertainment, who currently runs the Opry, and is running it into the ground.
I know these ramblings may not convince anybody. I understand that Reinstating Hank to the Opry is completely symbolic, and even if it is done that won’t mean that country music has been saved. But it is a battle in a war, an important hill to take, a way to keep Gaylord Entertainment’s feet to the fire.
And when they are writing the country history books about this dark period in country music, they will be able to mention that there was a contingent of die hard REAL country music fans that did what they could to preserve the music, and I am glad and proud to count myself within those ranks.
Today was the day in 1952 that Hank Williams, the King of Country music, was fired from the Grand Ole Opry for missing rehearsals due to his excessive use of alcohol. The Opry promised that they would Reinstate Hank Williams after he sobered up, but Hank Williams died New Year’s Day of 1953, and was never able to rejoin the institution that he loved so much, and that he was seminal in making a national treasure.
Today there is a movement to Reinstate Hank Williams back to the Grand Ole Opry, spearheaded by his grandson Hank Williams III, including an online petition. More info can be found at reinstatehank.org.
Coincidentally, yesterday it was announced that there is a new feature film in the works based on the life of Hank Williams. From variety.com:
“Nashville-based 821 Entertainment Group and Strike Entertainment have teamed to turn the life of country music icon Hank Williams into a feature film. The package includes cooperation with the Hank Williams estate that gives the production use of his most memorable recordings. Also, 821 has optioned the rights to “Hank Williams: The Biography,” a book by Colin Escott that is being used as a resource by Abraham. Escott will be associate producer.
“”It took us almost five years to execute this deal, and people told us we were crazy to try because the estate was so fractured,” Geadelmann said. On one side of the estate is singer Hank Williams Jr., and on the other is Jett Williams, the illegitimate daughter of the late singer, born days after he died. They haven’t seen eye to eye on much, but they did get together on the biopic.
“”He was the first real star who went down as the result of his lifestyle, succeeded by Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain,” Abraham said. “He destroyed himself, but for six years leading to his death, Hank had six songs each year in the top 10.” Though it’s early, Abraham believes that original recordings will likely be used in the film. Williams’ story was previously told on the bigscreen in the 1964 George Hamilton starrer “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
To read more, click here.
And last but not least, Hank Williams fans in and around Cincinnati are trying to raise money to put a Hank Williams plaque up at the Herzog Studios where Hank Williams recorded some of his most memorable songs. On Aug. 22nd there is going to be a benefit concert, and to see the poster with all the details for the event click here. And thanks to Neltner Creative is responsible for that poster, and for most of the art of the the Reinstate Hank movement.
It is great to see that so many years after the death of Hank Williams, his legacy is still alive in the hearts of his fans.
I’ve said it many times before, when it comes to the movements to put REAL country music back in it’s proper place in the world, we all do what we can. Some make videos. Some like me take their poison pen and try to jab it in the eye of pop country. Some just use word of mouth, and for some it is as simple as putting a Reinstate Hank banner (which can be found HERE) on their MySpace or Facebook site. No contribution is too small, we all just do what we can, and nobody should feel guilty for not doing more.
But some people have, um, let’s just say “assets” that they can use to help spread the word about Reinstate Hank, and they are not afraid to use them.
Take for example Rebel:
I think I’m in love.
And thank God for full figured gals, and Miss Billie Mae:
And if that doesn’t get your motor running . . .
Thanks to Cathy for turning me on to some of these pictures and people!
Something tells me ol’ Hank is looking down from heaven and . . . well . . . smiling. Yes, he’s smiling!
So now, what are you waiting for?
With technology, the strangleholds that major label have over artists are decreasing by the day. It used to be that you needed a label to record your music, publish your music, distribute it and promote it. But now all off these things can be done by the artists themselves through the internet. And as time goes on, these things become cheaper, more accessible, and the quality increases.
One of the best examples of this is videos: one of the best tools musicians can use to promote their music.
Here’s Bob Wayne with a new video for the song “Road Bound”
They got legs, and know how to use them.
I know not everyone is into that low, gruffy Tom Waits-style singing, but the way Junk’s voice contrasts with Rachel’s sweet-sounding voice is just friggin’ sublime in this video. You can check out Rachel and Junk’s collaborative project HERE.
And last but not least, video has become a way for the people, the fans to support and promote the music they dig. Here is the latest entry in the Reinstate Hank video contest, from Restless in Amsterdam:
“I hope the Grand Ole Opry will cross the borders of their own limitations and Reinstate Hank Williams.”
Powerful stuff. The world is speaking now.
BTW, shortly I am going to be putting up a permanent page on savingcountrymusic.com where ALL of the Reinstate Hank videos can be seen together. And remember, you can help support these videos by going to YouTube and rating them and leaving comments.
To sign the petition to Reinstate Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry CLICK HERE
To learn more about the movement to Reinstate Hank CLICK HERE
To learn about my Reinstate Hank video contest CLICK HERE
To see an updated list of the booty you can win simply by just making a video CLICK HERE.
“It was said he had a million dollar voice with a 10 cent mind. Whoever runs the Opry now has got the 10 cent mind.”
Genius, just genius.
Thanks to Nick for making a great heartfelt video! Please go to YouTube and rate and comment. Help spread the word about this and all the other Reinstate Hank videos.
OH, and there is an NEW Reinstate Hank flier you can print out and hand out at events, similar to the printable petition sheets!
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