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Today is the release of 90-year-old blues legend T-Model Ford’s latest album Taledragger, recorded with blues band GravelRoad. You can get from Amazon for only $5.99, and download the first track “Same Old Train” for FREE (Review from ninebullets.net).
Even though T Model is solidly blues, like so many other roots-based independent artists, he has turned to the same underground resources that many independent country acts use to get their music to the people. This has formed the big tent movement that can be seen in things like the Muddy Roots Festival lineup where you have country and blues musicians booked side by side, and nobody bats an eyelash.
And to be a master of the obvious, T-Model happens to be black. The topic of race has come up around here quite often, from the hubub over country rapper Colt Ford, to the talk of the two music super-genres (hip hop and country) that dominate the music culture and split right down racial lines.
Some call the blending of traditionally white and black music in the mainstream creative, and strain to find similarities in the histories of country and rap to fit flimsy premises that we’re all just brothers of different mothers and all music when broken down to origin is ostensibly the same. If someone can blend two unrelated genres of music in a tasteful manner that is still respectful to the roots, then more power to them. But I think people like Colt Ford and Jason Aldean do it because they find it financially lucrative. Yes, there are similarities in all genres, but instead of looking at genres or racial styles of music as something that needs to be destroyed to create harmony, or as a way to create mass appeal, I’d rather celebrate the diversity in music and keep the differences stark and pure to keep the musical spectrum healthy.
One of the things I am most proud of about the current underground country/roots insurgency is the diversity, with genres and sex, and race as well. There are African American artists that use the same music infrastructure, have the same managers, labels, etc. as the country bands we discuss here. This is just a few, but they illustrate the diversity that the broad roots insurgency boasts.
I also plan to highlight the few times when the mixing of country and rap has worked in the future.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops
They could be mistaken as just a black bluegrass band, but The Drops go back even farther to when the genres of American music were still forming. Jazz, blues, and old-time string music worked in concert with each other much more fluidly, and this is what makes The Drops music so appealing and authentic. Let’s not forget, the banjo originated in Africa. Their manager is Dolpf Ramseur, who also manages The Avett Brothers. They have a great album out called Genuine Negro Jig that’s a good one that I hope to have a review up for soon, but listen to them talk about the music and their approach–an authentic appreciation for the music that is uncompromising to the influences of industry-based image:
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
What REAL and neo-traditionalist country bands are doing for the roots of country music is what Black Joe Lewis is doing for the Blues/Jazz/Soul mix that was so great in the 60′s and 70′s, and has died a slow death at the hands of mainstream hip-hop. Black Joe is on Lost Highway Records, the same label as Hayes Carll and Ryan Bingham. When I saw him at South By Southwest last year, he played the same showcase as Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. Definitely worth checking out:
T Model Ford
Booked by the Bucket City Agency that also books acts like The .357 String Band, Joe Buck, Rachel Brooke, and many more, and a performer at the Deep Blues Festivals that helped codify elements of the independent country movement and blend them with the muddy blues resurgence, T Model Ford is an ancestor to us all. 90 years of hard living? Meh. Recent stroke? Meh. He’s still out there on the road kicking people’s asses on a nightly basis.
(Ryan Bingham’s new album Junky Star is on sale for a limited time through Amazon for $3.99. CLICK HERE.)
Hey Ryan, it’s me, Country Music. I’ve been hearing some interesting things lately, about how you’re eager to dispel that your music is country. This puts me in a weird position, because I’m used to people using my name to call things “country” that are not. But I heard your first two albums, and though I wouldn’t say they are solidly country projects, without question there some country there, more country than most that fly my flag. And how about that Oscar, for a country song in a movie about a country star? Do you really think its that perplexing that some people think your music is country? It can’t be nearly as perplexing as some of your moves lately, including this one.
I mean what’s going on here Ryan, I thought we were buds? What, are you ashamed of me? Is it a sore subject with all of your new friends out in LA? If this is about you being ashamed that country has been overrun by pop then say so, but you didn’t seem so quick to distance from country when you were living in Texas and using traditional country infrastructure to make a name for yourself.
I mean, didn’t Lone Star Music help fund your first two self-releases? Didn’t your appearance on the BBC’s Bob Harris Country help you get your name out there? How about you playing on the COUNTRY Throwdown tour this summer, with Hank Jr., Jamey Johnson, Eric Church, etc.? Didn’t you spend years on the bull riding circuit? It doesn’t get more country than that!
If you want to burn bridges, well hell man, don’t let me stand in your way, in fact I’ll light the torch myself! But I don’t want to see a Waylon Jennings album or a pearl snap shirt near your new hatless, Hollywood Heights scene, and don’t come crying back to me if Marc Ford and the rest of your LA good time buddies leave you high and dry. No country concept albums, no “reconnecting with your roots” projects in the future. You don’t want to be known as country, then fine. ITS OVER!!!
Have fun stroking your Oscar.
Over a year ago I reported that the Warped Tour’s Kevin Lyman was planning a country tour and in preparation of doing so he was relegating the country music fan to a “40%” statistic, singing the praises of Taylor Swift, and opening an office in Nashville to snort cocaine off of hooker’s bellies with Music Row’s major label execs.
Well now this thing is up and running, and it took even more of a sinister turn when they decided to give this tour a “new Outlaws” flavor by bringing along acts like Eric Church and giving it an emblem that is a mild ripoff of my own. I was hoping to catch the Dallas leg of this, to point and laugh and see the few decent acts that had slipped on the bill, but now the Dallas date has been canceled, along with shows in Houston, San Diego, and Phoenix due to lagging ticket sales. Huh.
Meanwhile the smelly, dirty, foul mouthed degenerate grandson of Hank Williams just crashed the pretty faced pop party at the top of the country charts, ranking #4 in country, and #20 in all of music, selling 17,000 copies of Rebel Within.
It seems the tables have turned, at least in this instance. Hank III is able to chart with virtually no support from radio or media, but with a solid grass roots network and following. Meanwhile Warped Country is canceling dates because they can’t find enough sheep in Chinese-made straw cowboy hats from Wal-Mart to support their bloated infrastructure and overextended budget pushing bad music. (Ryan Bingham maybe being an exception.)
Some day country music will see that us bitchy folks in the underground are their best friends, showing them truly how to farm talent, and how to navigate through the current revolution in digital technology that has ensnared the music business. Or wait, is it really digital music ensnaring Nashville, or is it the grass roots rising up?
“You can grow when you rip your roots out of the ground.”
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