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One year ago today, Outlaw country artist and songwriter Wayne Mills was shot in the back of the head at the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville, TN at approximately 5:00 AM after an altercation erupted with the bar’s owner, Chris Michael Ferrell—a friend of Wayne’s who was hosting an after hours gathering following a tribute concert to George Jones earlier in the evening at the Bridgestone Arena. Mills died later that day of his wounds in a Nashville hospital, and after a protracted investigation, Chris Ferrell was indicted by a Grand Jury on 2nd Degree murder charges. Ferrell is currently out on bond and under electronic surveillance ahead of his trial set to begin on March 2nd, 2015. Meanwhile many questions continue to linger about the circumstances of Wayne’s death as fans, friends, and family remember the fallen performer on this solemn anniversary.
A year has passed, and still very little makes sense, or even is known about Wayne Mills’ death. Early reports had the altercation starting over smoking in a non-smoking section of the Pit & Barrel bar that had recently been remodeled as part of the Spike TV reality series Bar Rescue, but later Ferrell claimed in a preliminary court hearing that Mills’ had come to the bar to “rob and kill” him—something that goes completely against the character of the songwriter who was known by many as a gentle giant. When Ferrell shot Mills, he did not do it from close range according to the autopsy report, which also revealed Wayne Mills had been heavily beaten, with bruises and cuts on every sector of his body and multiple broken ribs. Still, it was Chris Ferrell who initially called 911 after the shooting, and as his attorney says, he didn’t “run for tall weeds” after the incident, but cooperated fully with police, and turned himself in immediately when the indictment was handed down, insisting on his innocence.
The investigation into the death of Wayne Mills resulted in some very curious circumstances in itself. The police initially misidentified Wayne as another Nashville songwriter, Clayton Mills, and worked under this assumption for some ten hours into the investigation. This unfortunate error resulted in Wayne Mills’ widow, Carol Mills, confined to a hospital waiting room while her husband lay fighting for life behind closed doors that the staff would not let her past because they couldn’t confirm she was family. Meanwhile Chris Ferrell was able to come and go freely, and though Wayne was subjected to a toxicology test as part of his autopsy, it is still unclear if a similar test was done on Ferrell. And even if Chris Ferrell was acting in self-defense, why was a fatal shot needed, and one that was fired at a distance and from behind, meaning Wayne at the time was likely not in a position to pose a threat to Ferrell. Two guns were presented to police when they arrived on the scene, and later a private investigator hired by Ferrell found a second bullet embedded in the Pit & Barrel’s wall.
There were no direct witnesses to the Wayne Mills killing. Country performer Shooter Jennings and his manager Jon Hensley had left shortly before, and everyone else in the bar had filed outside amidst the altercation, leaving only Chris Ferrell and evidence collected at the scene as a way to piece together what truly happened, making the upcoming trial of Chris Ferrell all the more important. Beyond the fans, family, and friends of Wayne Mills who want justice, many in the music community and Nashville at large simply want answers of why a man died seemingly so unnecessarily.
Jerald Wayne Mills was laid to rest on December 8th, 2013 after a memorial service was held for him in his hometown of Arab, Alabama. A man who had been a friend and mentor to stars as far ranging as Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson, and had left a vibrant legacy of songs and music was gone. Wayne Mills is survived by his wife Carol, and his young son Jack, and thousands of fans who were touched by his music.
On the one year anniversary of Wayne Mills’ death, it is important to remember and celebrate Wayne’s legacy. But it is also important to remember that we still don’t have the answer to why he was killed. As citizens of the music community, it is important that we continue to ask this question, and to remain vigilant in the face of the passage of time and the distraction of daily news until this important answer is found.
In September of 2012, Blake Judd of JuddFilms brought a camera crew to the famous Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, TN to shoot a pilot episode for a television series that has never been aired. Meant to be aired late at night, similar to the late-night musical variety show The Midnight Special that was broadcast on NBC from 1972 to 1981, the idea was to take well-known established artists, worthy undiscovered musicians and songwriters, and stick them all in Johnny Cash’s legendary cabin with an open bar, and set the camera’s rolling.
Developed by Shooter Jennings and JuddFilms, Shooter Jennings’ Midnight Special had little to no rules. Pickers and songwriters organically decided what they wanted to play, and people joined in if they wished. The idea was to capture collaborative magic, while using the names of larger artists to help expose smaller ones. The names assembled in the Cash Cabin include mainstream country artists like Kellie Pickler and John Anderson, Americana names like Jason Isbell and Leroy Powell, and underground artists such as Leon Virgil Bowers (formerly Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory), and Col. JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers.
In the below video obtained by Saving Country Music from Judd Films, it finds Leon Virgil Bowers leading the Cash Cabin in a rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Two of a Kind.” The woman blowing in Bowers’ ear in the early portion is Leon’s wife who is known to request the song whenever she sees Leon with a guitar in his hand. Joining Leon is a stupidly-dizzying amount of music talent, including Jason Isbell, Amanda Isbell (Shires), Col. JD Wilkes, Jessica Wilkes, Scott Icenogle on bass, Rico from Hellbound Glory on slide guitar, while Shooter Jennings, Sarah Gayle Meech, John Carter Cash, Leroy Powell, Joey Allcorn, some pretty girls, and who knows else sway along and offer harmony vocals. It’s a crazy roundtable of talent, while top notch video cameras and studio-quality sound capture the entire thing.
Even more interesting is there’s apparently much more from where this video came from, with footage being captured all day, and John Anderson, Kellie Pickler, and others joining in, including Kellie doing Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” to be released on December 4th. No word on what ever happened to this series, but it is definitely interesting to see all this talent in one place.
“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking.”
This is the quote that has been attributed to Waylon Jennings that you are likely to see in much greater frequency now that Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. For some, it is the totality of their argument against Garth. Forget all his music, past and future, whatever merits his music might have beyond the flashy stage show, however much the test of time has validated his music or not. To tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of people, the totality of their Garth hatred, the alpha and omega of their anti-Garth argument, rests on this quote. And if you don’t believe me, just mention Garth’s name in the right (or wrong) company, it it will come flying out at you unsolicited.
The problem is there’s no verifiable records of Waylon ever saying it. And if he did ever say it, that he is the originator of the quote. But just like the urban myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to legally change their name to KFC because the birds they use are so genetically altered they can’t be classified as chickens, if you parrot something enough, people take it as fact.
If I had a hunch, not based on fact or research whatsoever, I would say that at some point Waylon Jennings probably did utter those words about Garth, and they probably made it out to the greater world through his son Shooter Jennings. But I’ve also heard from some who say that Poodie Locke—Willie Nelson’s long-time stage manager and one prone to such humor—was the first to say it. Maybe Waylon picked it up there. But I can’t verify that Poodie Locke said it either. There are records of the “_____ did for ____ what pantyhose did for finger fucking” phrase being used for other purposes way before Garth Brooks had even released his first album, so is it really fair to attribute the analogy to anyone?
When you start to try and find the origination point of the quote, and any factual information on if Waylon truly said it or coined it, you start finding a tremendous amount of fiction. The simple fact is the quote is so juicy, and many people just want it to be real so badly, they’re willing to look the other way and proffer it up for human consumption regardless of the truth.
The first record of the quote being used goes back to of all places, Willie Nelson’s 70th Birthday Party in 2003, and from of all people, actor Ethan Hawke. In April of 2009, Ethan Hawke penned a feature on Kris Kristofferson for Rolling Stone. In the feature, Ethan Hawke recounts a story from 2003 where Kris Kristofferson and Toby Keith get into a verbal argument, and Kristofferson says the Waylon quote in response to Toby Keith’s demand, “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:
“Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.
“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.
“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.
“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”
“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, “Don’t say a word.” Then his eyes found me. “You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?” he whispered.
I shook my head.
“They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”
- – - – - – - – - -
Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ‘em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.
In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: ”I have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie’s birthday party — least of all to Toby Keith, (if that’s who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”
As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.
But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.
Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.
Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?
This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,
“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.” Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.
Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.
I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.
Because of Garth’s massive success, there’s a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.
It’s a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those people’s success excuses our meanness.
Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece. In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.
Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,
Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I don’t know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We don’t really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?
Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.
Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.
Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …
The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …
My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.
Reno’s Hellbound Glory has just released a new 5-song EP called LV, named for the initials of lead singer and songwriter Leroy Virgil. The album was recorded in and partially inspired by Leroy’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, and marks the first new music from Leroy and Hellbound Glory in nearly three years.
On the occasion of the new release I gave Leroy a call and spoke to him about the new EP, another EP he has coming out July 3rd called Folk Hero, and what opening for Kid Rock on an arena tour did for his career.
“It’s about a hour-and-a-half outside of Reno on the Gardnerville side, through Gardnerville, then you take 88 up into the mountains,” Leroy tells me about the place he’s living now ouside of Reno. “Just a little town, out kinda in the middle of nowhere. I’ve got a really great view. Hardly anyone lives around me. Just a really secluded little place out in the woods, which is cool by me. I’ve lived up here for about a year.
“Obviously I spend a lot of time out on the road. But my wife and I moved up here to be closer to her family. Just wanted a place where my kid could play out in the woods. The area we can afford to live in Reno was getting a little bit rough. So this was good for the family. My boy is great. He’s a big boy. He knows my music, loves music in general. He’s my biggest fan, and I’m his biggest fan too. Since he’s been born I’ve been stealing material from him.”
Tell us about this new EP you’ve got out, LV.
Last Halloween I wrote this song called “Streets of Aberdeen”. It literally took me like a half hour to put it all together. I wrote it, and later that night I posted it on the internet to share it, and as I started playing it more, I thought, “this has some potential.” I got a hold of an old friend of mine back in Aberdeen that I used to record with when I was a teenager who has a studio there. I just said, “Hey, would you be interested in hitting the studio together?” He’d been out of commission for a while, but he got it all set up. If you’ve heard the song, the storyline’s about an infamous murderer back there in Aberdeen. And the place I recorded it—and this is completely random, none of this was on purpose—but the actual studio is an old union building where Billy Gohl murdered all these people at. That just happens to be where the studio happens to be. So I wrote this song, and I kind of knew in the back of my mind that the studio was in the same place, but the song is about it, and it’s recorded right there. I don’t know, I just thought it was something kind of cool. I’d always heard the story when I was a kid and it was stuck in my brain. It makes for a good story at the very least.
The EP is all tape, all analog studio, and he hadn’t been recording for about ten years or so. So it’s old tape equipment before they started using Pro Tools and stuff. There’s no computers in the whole entire office. And I went there and did a couple of songs with Adam whose playing bass for me, and Marty Chandler who plays guitar for the Supersuckers. They play on a few of the songs, and then the rest of the songs I just did by myself as kind of a one man band.
The “Streets of Aberdeen” song, I tried to get it recorded for a couple of sessions, and it just wasn’t coming together. It got to be one of the last days, and I knew Bryan [the engineer] had to head off to some dance thing for his wife. It got to about four o’clock and he had to be gone by five, so I just tuned the guitar down and started strumming something and I came up with this chord. And after a bunch of tries earlier, I found the right chord, I found the right tempo, and I recorded everything on the song in about an hour.
Tell us about your history with Aberdeen. Hellboud Glory is so synonymous with Reno, but I know that’s the area you’re from.
My mom moved to Aberdeen when I was about three. She met my step dad out there and I lived out there for the most part, with the exception of a couple months here and there when I would visit my real father who lived in Sun Valley, right outside of Reno. So I bounced back and forth between the two places quite a bit. At about 21, I decided to move out of Aberdeen because I wanted to go to Reno to become a big star (laughing). That’s a joke. Nobody moves to Reno to become a big star. But I moved to Reno to pursue music a little bit, and to get to know my dad. But yeah, I grew up in Aberdeen. I grew up on an oyster farm just outside of town, but I also spent a lot of time hanging out in the downtown area with street kids.
And Aberdeen is a strange town because I don’t know that traditionally you would call it a music town, but there’s all this musical history swirling around the area out there.
Metal Church is from out there, which actually Brian Smith who recorded this EP has some ties to. The Melvins are from out there. And of course Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are from Aberdeen as well. There’s definitely something in the water out there I’d say.
So why release a 5-song EP now instead of a full album a later? Do you consider this somewhat of a concept album because it’s so tied to this location?
There would be more songs if I had more songs that I’d recorded. I’ve got to say that LV is the first thing I’ve put out where I’m happy with every single one of the songs. The versions are definitive versions of these songs. Some of the past projects, I’d put twelve songs on it and there would be three or four songs where it was a good song, but I just wasn’t quite happy with the way it turned out, but I put it on there just because I wanted to get the song out. This was the first time I didn’t make concessions to time or anything.
I’ve got another 5-song EP in the can that I’ll be putting out July 3rd. It’s going to be called Folk Hero. It’s going to be a political album. A lot of the songs people have probably heard and there’s a couple of cover songs. It’s more electric than the stuff I have doing with the Aberdeen sessions. It’s a little bit more like what our live show is going to be like. It was recorded out in Detroit.
The “LV” of the EP is for your initials. How much is this LV EP Hellbound Glory, and how much of it is it Leroy Virgil?
I started Hellbound Glory more than ten years ago back in Reno. Hellbound Glory has always been my thing. It’s always been less of a band, and more of a gang. People come and people go, and people come back. Because I recorded this EP back in Aberdeen, and I recorded a lot of it by myself, it is a little bit more of a pure expression of just me. I really put a lot of myself onto the tape with it. Just trying to capture more where I’m from as opposed to where the band is from.
Have you thought about just going under the Leroy Virgil name?
I’ve actually considered it a lot. We’ve talked about it, but there’s so much momentum going with Hellbound Glory and I’ve got so many years of work into it. Within a week or two of moving to Reno, I’d written the song and turned it into a band name. So it’s been something I’m stuck with. Part of me would like a change. But it’s a great band name when you think about it. It’s good and evil, heaven and hell. As I’ve changed lineups, I’ve always called the band something different. For a while we were the Excavators, for a while I was calling it the Damaged Good Ol’ Boys, for a while to was the Damn Seagulls, so it’s always kind of changing up for me. I could see a day when it is called Leroy & Hellbound Glory, or whatever. I have no shortage of good band names. I want people to connect with the songs rather than the band name.
Every time I bring up Hellbound Glory, people ask me what’s going on with those Shooter Jennings sessions that you did out in Nashville. Is it coming in the future, is it sort of in limbo?
You know, I’d say it will probably be out someday. To be honest with you, I didn’t really bring it to the recording sessions. A lot of the songs I hadn’t finished yet, I don’t think. And we were just really limited on time. I’ve heard them, and Shooter did a great job, it was just I didn’t do that great of a job. We drove three days and showed up at noon and started playing. We really partied pretty hard. And you know, I don’t regret doing it because it made the songs better. But I just wasn’t too stoked about what got laid to tape. I love Shooter to death and I wish it would have worked out, but the songs weren’t done yet. There were lyrics on it that were half cooked. I didn’t sing all that great. But I’m looking forward to working with Shooter again. We’ve actually talked about getting back into this studio in Aberdeen.
How much does it concern you that you have songs out there that you’ve created, and maybe you get tired of them, or maybe you’re working on them, and that maybe they’ll get lost?
I’m not afraid of that at all. I like my songs. I’ve got five new ones that I’m polishing up right now. For me, I don’t want to force it in the studio. All of those songs I recorded with Shooter, they’re not off the table. I’m not going to put them out until I’ve got the right groove for them. I’m going to keep on trying. I’m always working on them. I’m still planning to get them out because I like them. I think they’re great songs.
What kind of impact did the Kid Rock tour have on your career?
It put me on stage in front of a bunch of people, and I learned a whole shitload just being around the guy. I don’t know. My life has completely changed since I went on that tour. People may not be able to see it. We’re not selling out big places or nothing. But I’ve got a nice new van, recording in a nice studio. I’ve got a really good booking agent. I don’t know. Every interaction I had with Kid Rock, I learned something. He didn’t make me an overnight sensation, but he definitely put me on the radar.
Country music isn’t just a genre of music, it is a musical religion, a way of life, a cultural lineage passed down from generation to generation and preserved through the blood and bond of its performers and fans. That’s why it seems country music performers so very often tend to turn out to be the parents of country music performers themselves.
Let’s take a look at some of country music’s greatest sons and daughters.
Justin Townes Earle
Son of alt-country pioneer Steve Earle, and middle namesake of the man who was good friends with his father and considered one of the greatest songwriters ever, Justin Townes Earle has spent the last seven or so years trying to live up to the lofty expectations of both names, and has done so valiantly. Releasing a startling debut EP in 2007 called Yuma, Earle and his obsession with the craft of songwriting have led to critical success for the five albums he’s released through Bloodshot Records. Considered by many as one of the biggest names in the new generation of alt-country/Americana performers, Justin has done it not by being a chip off the old block, but by forging his own path.
Justin’s relationship with his father has been rocky over the years. Steve Earle left Justin and his mother when Justin was just 2-year-old, and the younger Earle had a tumultuous, troubled, and at times, drug-fueled childhood. But he has soldiered on to carry a name all his own.
The son of Willie Nelson’s long-time guitarist Jody Payne and Grammy Award-winning country music singer Sammi Smith, Waylon is named after his Godfather, Waylon Jennings. Raised by his aunt and uncle due to his parents’ heavy touring schedules, Payne attended seminary after high school and was on track to become a minister before catching the music bug. For a while Payne was part of the popular Eastbound and Down country night at the King King Club in Hollywood where performers would swap classic country songs. Payne later released the album The Drifter in 2004 through Republic Universal.
Music isn’t Waylon Payne’s only creative calling though. He may be known more as an actor than a musician. In the award-winning Johnny Cash film I Walk The Line, Payne played Jerry Lee Lewis. He also played country great Hank Garland in a small film called Crazy, along with making numerous television appearances, including on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Hank Williams III (or Hank3)
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr., if there was ever a spitting image of country music’s first superstar, it would be him. He not only carries the visage and build of Hank Sr., but also the voice and writing style when he wants to go in that direction. The youngest Hank though has a hankering to delve into the wild side of music as well, and has released multiple punk albums during his career that has now stretched into two decades.
Hank3 started out playing drums and guitar in underground punk bands, with no real drive to be a part of the country music machine. But when a paternity suit put him in court, he decided to sign with Curb Records, and entered into a tumultuous period with the label that at the least resulted in multiple landmark records, including the neo-traditional country stalwart Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’, and his double album opus Straight to Hell. Hank3 is now an independent artist, and carries on the family tradition of doing the music he wants and defying expectation.
The granddaughter of Hank Williams, daughter of Hank Jr., and half sister of Hank Williams III has had a somewhat strange musical journey, but one that has seen her bloom recently to become one of the leading females in country/Americana, keeping the music true to its roots while moving it forward.
Holly’s early career saw her sign to major labels like Universal South and Mercury Nashville, trying to break into the big time, but always seemingly with one foot in, and one foot out of that mainstream approach to music. She was also seriously injured in a near fatal crash in 2006 along with her sister Hilary who also is a performer. Then in February of 2013, Holly released The Highway independently, and since then has become a critical darling and a live performer not to miss. Though there were some that at times wondered if Holly was just a famous name, she’s proven recently that she’s so much more.
The son of Merle Haggard and an official member of Merle’s legendary backing band The Strangers, Ben is a chip off the old block when it comes to slinging Telecasters and perfecting the West Coast, twangy Bakersfield tradition of loud and electric country music. Patterned in the mold of the pioneer of the craft, the under-appreciated Roy Nichols, Ben can be seen plying his craft and staring at the back of his father on any given night out on the road. This isn’t just your usual slot filled by a family member on stage. Ben’s skills are regarded by his musician peers as being standalone from any famous name.
The only child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, Shooter started his musical journey in the rock band Stargunn before signing with Universal South in 2005 and releasing his first country record, Put The ‘O’ Back In Country. He subsequently released two more country records infused with some Southern rock & roll before putting out his rock opus, the experimental album Black Ribbons. Shooter re-established his country roots with the 2012 album Family Man, followed up by 2013′s The Other Life.
Like many of country music’s famous sons and daughters, Shooter Jennings marches to his own drum, but always seems to come back to the country music fold.
Jubal Lee Young
Son of legendary Outlaw country songwriter and performer Steve Young (Lonesome, Onry & Mean, Seven Bridges Road), and songwriter Terrye Newkirk, Jubal Lee Young from Muskogee, Oklahoma put out an album in 2011 called Take It Home that included the song “There Ain’t No Outlaws Any More” that loudly proclaims, “Here comes another badass sellin’ Nashville rock and roll, long hair, denim and tattoos, lookin’ on’ry and mean. Singin’ songs about that lonesome road, some of ‘em might even be true. But there ain’t no outlaws anymore…”
Hank Williams Jr.
The most obvious and most successful of country music’s greatest sons, Hank Williams Jr. is very likely a future country music Hall of Famer, and has won multiple CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards and sold millions of albums. He started out his career as a virtual impersonator of his famous father, but rebelled against this preordained future to become so much more. Hank Jr. took a precipitous fall off of Ajax Mountain in Montana in 1975, landing on his face, and having to go through multiple surgeries before he could return to performing. And when he did, he quickly became known as “Rockin’” Randall Hank as he emerged with a sound that was just as much Southern rock as country.
In the mid 80′s, Hank Williams Jr. was one of country’s biggest stars, and now sits as a legend in the genre. He also is responsible for two other famous country offspring: Hank Williams III and Holly Williams, and a 2nd daughter Hilary Williams has also been a performer.
The only daughter of the country music super pairing of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Georgette was said to have a recording contract on the day she was born. She recorded her first song at the ripe age of ten with her dad called “Daddy Come Home.” From there Georgette began singing backup for her mom, and she has gone on to become an accomplished songwriter and solo performer herself. Georgette has released numerous albums, including three for Heart of Texas Records. Her latest album Til I Can Make It On My Own is a tribute to her mother.
Georgette also appeared in the TV Series Sordid Lives and recorded numerous songs for the soundtrack, including Tammy Wynette tunes. She also recently released a memoir called The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George, Georgette Jones.
Daughter of David Allan Coe, Shelli was born in Nashville and raised in Austin, and appeared at the tender age of 3-years-old on her father’s Family Album project. She later worked as a backup singer for her father before landing in Branson, MO for a while where she performed in clubs, collaborated with other songwriters and appeared on the album Branson Songwriters Out in the Streets. Shelli subsequently returned to Austin where she is known to perform off and on. Her first full-length CD A Girl Like Me was released in 2010, and is worth a listen for folks that like traditional country music.
Surrounded by a bevy of musical siblings and one awfully famous father, the argument can be made that Lukas was the Willie offspring that received the most potent douse of Willie’s musical genes, and has a powerful voice to match his father’s. A dynamic, top-flight performer with a sound that trends much closer to rock than country, but still has an earthy, rootsy feel nonetheless, Lukas is on a fast track to becoming a superstar all his own.
From his towering leg kicks, to playing the guitar with his teeth, at only 23-years-old, Lukas could already be crowned as a guitar god. Leading his band The Promise of the Real, they’ve made waves in the music world on big tours. About the only thing holding the young star back is that rock music is in a weird spot right now, and guitar blazers are not what the masses are particularly looking for. But like his father, Lukas is not worried about anything but following his heart, and he promises to have a very bright future ahead of him with a tower of talent to draw from.
Son of Outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver, Eddie Shaver was one of the best country music guitar shredders to ever take the stage. Aside from being his father’s right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player for the first two years of Dwight’s career.
It’s only because of Eddie’s untimely death that he’s not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.
Though one might first think of June Carter as more of a mother of famous country artists instead of a daughter of them, June Carter is arguably the first daughter of country music. Her mother is “Mother” Maybelle Carter, given her nickname for being the mother of her performing daughters, and arguably the mother of country music. June began performing at the age of ten in 1939 as part of the landmark country outfit The Carter Family. It was through their mutual love of country music that she would eventually meet and fall in love with Johnny Cash, and the two went on to be one of country music’s powerhouse couples. June Carter was a muti-instrumentalist with a classic voice, and defines the nexus between country music’s primitive, classic, and modern eras.
It can be easy to overlook just what kind of impact Rosanne Cash has had on American music over the years. She seems to always be overshadowed by her father, by other famous sons and daughters of country legends, measured against them, and dogged by preceding labels that don’t always allow her to be judged on her own merit, while her musical accomplishments veer towards being somewhat misunderstood because she’s not always been nestled smack dab in the country realm as people want, expect, or anticipate.
But Rosanne’s critical and commercial accomplishments are far more than complimentary, they define a very successful career: Eleven #1 country singles, twenty-one Top 40 singles, and thirteen Grammy nominations is nothing to sniff at, and ultimately might at least get her mentions as a potential Hall of Fame inductee.
The only offspring between the country music super marriage of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John Carter Cash has spent his time as a singer and performer, but many of his important contributions to country music have come behind-the-scenes as a producer, songwriter, author, and general champion of the Cash estate and all things country music. It’s remarkable how many places you see John Carter’s name attached to projects as his puts effort out to make music happen in whatever capacity he can help in. Like his father, he has that selfless streak of service that surfaces in some of the most generous and cool ways.
Bobby Bare Jr.
Born in Nashville, TN to the original Outlaw Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr. grew up next door to Tammy Wynette and George Jones in Hendersonville, and was nominated for a Grammy next to his father for the Shel Silverstein-written song “Daddy What If” from his father’s tribute album to Silverstein. Fronting roots rock bands like “Bare Jr.” and “Young Criminals Starvation League”, Bare’s career has been the result of avoiding “working a real job at any cost,” despite earning a psychology degree from the University of Tenessee, and not really getting deep into his own music until later in life. His high energy on stage and dark sarcasm in his songs have won him fans worldwide.
Other Famous Sons & Daughters:
Pam Tillis – 1994 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, and daughter of country great Mel Tillis
The Carter Family Daughters – Carlene Carter, Helen Carter, Anita Carter, Rosie Nix Adams.
Jett Williams – Daughter of Hank Williams that found out about her famous father later in life. Jett has been a performer and plays an important role as one of the executors of the Hank Williams estate.
Jesse Keith Whitley – Son of Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley
Marty Haggard, Noel Haggard, and Scott Haggard- More performing sons of Merle.
Dean Miller – Son of Roger Miller
Lilly Hiatt – Daughter of John Hiatt
Chelsea Crowell – Daughter of Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell
Paula Nelson – Leader of The Paul Nelson Band.
Tyler Mahan Coe – Guitar player and writer who spent years touring in his father’s band.
Folk Uke – Made up Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy, and Arlo Guthrie’s daughter Cathy.
Whey Jennings – The son of Terry Jennings, and grandson of Waylon Jennings.
Lucas Hubbard – Son of Ray Wylie Hubbard who often plays lead guitar with his father.
Lucky Tubb – Not technically a son or daughter, but a great nephew of Ernest.
Bluegrass – There are many performing sons and daughters of famous bluegrass musicians, but for fear of forgetting some and getting yelled at for it, this sentence is in dedication to them all. You rock! Or pick, or strum, or pluck! Go YOU!
Baltimore-based writer and filmmaker Travis Kitchens (@kitchens_travis) has had and very interesting last few weeks to say the least. After posting a scathing review of a February 1st Jason Aldean concert at the Baltimore Arena in the local Baltimore City Paper alternative newsweekly, all hell broke loose and the review was eventually censored after two advertisers put heavy pressure on the paper’s parent company. To make matters worse, the paper was currently in the process of being sold, and numerous controversial layoffs and other censored stories have been the talk of Baltimore’s journalism community.
Since not much was known about Kitchens, and since his censored review has raised numerous questions itself, Saving Country Music reached out to the freelance writer to clear up some open questions, and get his perspective on the City Paper censoring. It’s also important to point out that Travis Kitchens is originally from Kentucky, since his use of the term “redneck” in the review drew some people’s ire. Kitchens also likes to point out that City Paper sent him to the concert per the request of Jason Aldean’s PR firm.
What was your working relationship with the Baltimore City Paper? Freelancer? Staff Writer? What else do you do?
I’m a freelancer for City Paper, brought on by Baynard Woods. The Aldean review was my second live show review, the first being a Shooter Jennings show. I will still be writing my bi-monthly column, Strum Und Twang, on local country music events, after the transition to the new owners. Besides writing, I’m a documentary filmmaker and video producer. I have spent the last three years researching, shooting, and editing a film about country music titled, High On A Mountain. It focuses on the development of early country music, especially the migration of southerners to northern cities like Baltimore for factory jobs during World War II, using the microcosm of one artist, Zane Campbell. His aunt is a pretty famous country songwriter, Ola Belle Reed, and his family tree is full of musicians and songwriters going back almost 100 years. The entire trajectory of country music is contained in his DNA, and he’s a really fascinating visual artist and songwriter himself. I also have gotten into some producing work as a result of the film, so I guess I’m a record producer now too.
When you went to the Jason Aldean concert, did you truly think there was a chance that either you might enjoy it, or find something redeeming about the experience?
Yes. I go to a lot of different shows spanning pretty much every genre of music. However, I don’t listen to many of the big time country stars they play on the radio these days. I thought this would be an opportunity to see and hear one of the big timers for myself. I’m not a country music purist that thinks only traditional country will do and plenty of artists have put on quality arena-size shows through the years. I like rap, and I like country, so I’m not opposed to them being mixed on any ideological grounds. It’s just that Aldean is not a quality singer, songwriter, musician, or rapper. I haven’t read one serious review or comment on a review that contradicts this. As a cultural event that attracts a large number of people, it’s sort of interesting to think about why the people are attracted to his show and music, but that’s a different topic.
Clarify the use of the term “redneck” in the review.
The term “redneck” has been used by my friends, relatives, and people around me my entire life as a term of endearment and a means of self-identification. Aldean asked the crowd, “are there any rednecks in here tonight,” and the entire crowd roared. It seemed appropriate.
When you first turned in the review, was there any concern about its content? Is it out of the norm to see a review of that type to be featured through the paper?
No. The City Paper is staffed by professional journalists. Baynard Woods, who edited my article, expected me to give the show an honest review, and I did, and told me that he “loved it.” I haven’t read that many music reviews from City Paper because I attend most of the local country music shows. But I don’t think mine was a typical review because Aldean’s show is not the typical show. From what I understand, the tradition of alternative weeklies has been to give uncredentialed writers a platform to say what they think, and in that sense I don’t see my review as unusual.
How much do you think the review played into the layoffs at Baltimore City Paper, or any of the other decisions that were made as the paper prepares to be sold?
As far as I know, the layoffs had nothing to do with my review, that was a consequence of the Baltimore Sun buying City Paper. Whether or not they caved on pulling the story because they didn’t want to compromise the deal at a sensitive moment is another question, but I don’t know the answer.
How did you feel when the review was taken down?
I was surprised. Mainly because Aldean is such a big name why the hell would anyone care if I thought his show was a joke. Honestly I was a little flattered. Being banned or censored for being truthful is the highest honor for an artist. Though me being censored in this case has a lot to do with the circumstances, and not that I said anything particularly brilliant or that hadn’t been said before.
What did you learn as a writer, reviewer, and journalist from this experience?
Not much, though it confirmed several things. I thought some people would be angry if they had a chance to read it, because I was honest and my characterization of the show was accurate. Several people commented that I “needed to go back to school and learn how to write a proper review,” or something along those lines. I understand where that attitude comes from. Journalism, to a large extent, and the “experts” you see and hear in the media are now just vested interest, working for one side or the other. If you have school debt and kids and whatnot, and most people do, you can’t afford to tell the truth. I worked in the corporate world long enough to know how it works. You kiss up to private power and people like Aldean that have a ton of money and influence, and eventually you move up. If you go around being honest and accurate all the time, you will be shitcanned before you know it. That’s the value in independent media like Saving Country Music and Baltimore Brew. And even though City Paper was coerced into pulling my article, I’m impressed by several of the people there and their courage and commitment to telling the truth in the aftermath. They didn’t have to do that, and it would have benefited them to completely disown me.
If you had to name one positive thing about the Jason Aldean concert, what would it be?
Well I think the fact that people are getting together to enjoy something is a good thing. Unfortunately in this instance that thing is abominable. As far as I can tell, the corporatization of country music mirrors the corporatization of everything else in this country: communities, schools, worklife, other forms of art. The fans of this music, whether they know it or not, are participating in the dumbing down and stereotyping of an entire region of people. There is as much diversity in the south as anywhere else, if not more, but you don’t see that reflected in this music. It deadens the mind and kills interest in discovering your own past and culture. There are strong undertones of the “us against them” attitude prevalent in contemporary politics. It’s disempowering and promotes the idea that the only values in life are getting fucked up and buying more products. It also promotes the myth of progress in music. Aldean and Florida Georgia Line both said numerous times that night, that they (meaning themselves and the crowd), were “changing country music history.” I agree with them. Wal-Mart also changed history, significantly in small communities like the one I come from, and it’s been completely destructive in some of the ways I already mentioned. The more consolidated and bureaucratic something becomes, the less humane it becomes, because no single person feels responsible for the overall outcomes. Country music is the opposite of that. It is the stories of everyday people and the full spectrum of real human emotions. It’s ironic that they use outlaw/rebel imagery and language in the music, because the effect, and it’s intentional, has been to create a bunch of moronic conformists by parading some buffoon in front of the crowd who supposedly shares their values and interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Photos From Billy Ray Cyrus Facebook Page
Like brothers in country music arms, Shooter Jennings, the son of legendary country music Outlaw Waylon Jennings, and Billy Ray Cyrus, singer of “Achy Breaky Heart” and father of mega pop star Miley Cyrus, met together on stage Wednesday Night (2-19) at the club “Loaded” in Hollywood, California for an installment of the Shooter-hosted “BCR Nights At Loaded” concert series. Both men sporting Aviator sunglasses, shoulder length hair, and long face shadows looked like they were cut from the same country-music-with-a-little-rock cloth as they regaled the crowd of Hollywood revelers.
Billy Ray Cyrus, fresh off the release of his 2nd version and video of “Achy Breaky Heart”—a hip hop collaboration with rapper Buck 22 complete with twerking extra-terrestrials—was the special guest of this last night in the “BCR Nights At Loaded” series. Other performers included Billy Don Burns, Jonathan Tyler, and The Dogmen.
Some may wonder what the Cyrus / Shooter connection is, but apparently the two go way back. Billy Ray tweeted out earlier in the day, “I’m going to join my old friend Shooter Jennings tonight to play a few songs…” Cyrus is known for being a huge Waylon Jennings fan, and Waylon recounted his first meeting with Billy Ray in his autobiography.
One time I was at an awards show, and I heard a voice behind me saying “Mr. Jennings, you’re like a god to me.” I turned around and it was Billy Ray Cyrus, offering his hand for me to shake. All I could think of was, if I’m your god, what does your devil look like?
No word on if the Cyrus / Shooter dynamic duo was just a one-off occurrence or if there may be more collaborations in the future.
When populating a list of the most polarizing personalities in the greater country music world, right near the top would be Eric Church, who has made a career of not shying away from controversy, but careening straight into it, and Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon whose unusual approach both on and off the stage has won him devout followers and fierce critics.
Though the two artists don’t have any direct affiliations and have never really crossed paths in any significant manner, over the past year, the way their music has been promoted to the public from their respective albums has been very, very similar.
It was the very first thought that entered my head in mid October of 2013 when seeing Eric Church’s first teaser video for his album The Outsiders, set for release on Feb. 11th. The use of a teaser video itself was the initial tipoff. Not that Shooter Jennings was the very first to use teaser videos like he did in the run up to the release of his album The Other Life in early 2013, but the practice has been quite rare, especially in country music. And that was just the very beginning. So many other things that have transpired in Eric Church’s The Outsiders release that so closely parallel the release of Shooter’s The Other Life, that even if it is not purposeful or a “ripoff”, it is remarkable enough to point out nonetheless.
In fairness, even though Eric Church is the man whose name is on The Outsiders publicity material, it is not him alone, if him at all, but filmmakers and other production crew members that are helping him put The Outsiders roll out together, just as Shooter Jennings had a filmmaker named Blake Judd helping him with his project. But the similarities can’t be denied. Let’s take a look at them:
1. The Video Concept
The roll out for Shooter’s The Other Life album was supported by a short film by filmmaker Blake Judd of Judd Films. Teaser videos for the album, and full music videos for some of the songs were pulled from The Other Life film for promotional purposes.
As Shooter Jennings explained to baeblemusic.com, his label Entertainment One was willing to give him a video budget for the album “because they felt like it was more effective to create content … which I totally agree with … [rather than] you know, promoting stuff by just throwing money at radio or whatever.” So instead of making specific videos for individual songs from the album, Shooter and his team decided to make a short film that videos for the songs could be taken from.
The story and film snippets from The Other Life were purposely vague to create attention and intrigue in the project, and hinted to a deeper storyline that would eventually resolve when the full movie and a comic book was revealed. “…so we’re looking at it and we’re like ‘This thing is weird, but it’s cool,’” said Shooter at the time. “We’re sort of unveiling each part of it in a way, but it ends up tying all together very nicely…I think that when you see the whole thing it’s gonna make a little more sense.”
When it came to the roll out of Eric Church’s The Outsiders eight months later, almost the same exact video concept was employed to promote the album, with vague, ambiguous plot lines to create intrigue and hint to a larger narrative, which would eventually resolve once all the videos and the album were released.
“We’ve conceived and conceptualized what these videos are gonna be,” Eric Church told The Boot on January 29th, 2014. “There’s a storyline, so basically everybody you see…all the characters, they each have a story line and they all relate to each other… And we wanted it to be this big mystery, level of intrigue, that just was fun for fans that we could have this thing of trying to figure it out and looking at where clues were.”
2. The Teaser Videos
Both album roll outs used “teaser” videos ahead of the release—short, purposely-incomplete content meant to create interest in the project. Check out the first two teaser videos from the two respective projects: Shooter’s that was released on Jan 1st, 2013, and Eric Church’s that was released on October 13, 2013. Notice the primary elements of both teasers is a vague, disconnected story hinting to a larger narrative, with a dark, surreal vibe. Also notice that the coloring of both videos is very similar—darker, grayscale and sepia tones—and how both teaser videos conclude in a hard cut to black.
3. The Music Videos
After the first round of teaser videos, both Eric Church and Shooter Jennings released full-length music videos ahead of their albums. Shooter released his first video on March 9th, 2013, and Eric released his first on November 1st, 2013. In the two videos below, notice once again how they both have vague, disconnected story lines hinting to a larger narrative to be resolved in the future.
“The eerie resemblance to what Shooter and I created for ‘The Other Life’ campaign is most definitely there,” says filmmaker Blake Judd. “The idea of the teaser trailer and a short film/continual music video series we proudly worked on does seem to have a lot of parallels to what Church is doing. Maybe someone in his camp had this vision and they ran with it or maybe it was Church himself. And maybe they tried to emulate what we did and maybe not. Regardless of it all, the idea of a cross platform campaign; record, film, comic, print, VHS and digital release was something we’d never seen before, and Shooter and I are very proud of it.”
For Eric Church’s part, he told The Boot about the vagueness in his videos, “I don’t understand it either.”
4. The Name “The Outsiders”
The similarities with the video campaigns is one thing, and could be open to many different points-of-view and interpretations, especially depending on how one’s allegiances fall with the two artists. But the naming of the two albums is where the similarity between The Outsiders and The Other Life gets especially strange.
“The Outsiders” is not just the album title and the name of Eric’s lead single, it’s the cohesive theme of the entire Eric Church record and roll out. Interestingly enough, on Shooter’s album The Other Life, there is also a song called “The Outsider.” But it goes even deeper than that.
Originally, Shooter’s The Other Life album was going to be called The Outsider.
In an interview with The Boot on March 19th, 2013, Shooter said, “At first we were going to call [the album] ‘The Outsider’, but once we got into the film we thought, ‘Well, it’s like a mirror, a dark mirror of what ‘Family Man’ was.’” An interview with Shooter Jennings three days later with Rolling Stone starts off with the sentence, “Shooter Jennings may be known for his status spearheading all things outsider in the music world…”
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It is also important to note that previously Eric Church has been accused of mimicking the T-shirt designs and concepts from another independent country music artist, Hank Williams III or Hank3. Interestingly enough, Hank3 once accused Shooter Jennings of stealing his concept and persona when Shooter came out with his first album Put The ‘O’ Back in Country that was very similar to the lyrics of the Hank3 song “Dick In Dixie”.
Also, in August of 2011, Shooter Jennings released a song called “Outlaw You,” calling out the new Outlaws of country, of which Eric Church is considered a part of. Though Shooter Jennings has never said directly that the song was written about Eric Church, he alluded this to Saving Country Music around the release of “Outlaw You.” Even though the song was first released in 2011, it wasn’t until 2013 on Shooter’s album The Other Life that the song was released on an record.
Should Eric Church be accused of ripping off Shooter Jennings? That may be a little harsh. As stated above, Church’s involvement in the video aspect of his album may be limited, and it isn’t as if Shooter Jennings is the first to use a linear video campaign. But what is for sure is that Eric Church’s “The Outsiders” concept is certainly not as novel and original as they would like to have you believe.
On November 23rd, 2013, country artist Wayne Mills was shot and killed in Nashville at the Pit & Barrel Bar by the bar’s owner, Chris Ferrell. Mr. Ferrell claimed self-defense, and is currently facing 2nd Degree Murder charges brought down by a Grand Jury on December 6th, 2013. Ferrel was released on bail on December 16th, 2014.
Chris Ferrell was in court Thursday (1-16) for a “discussion date” and to take care of some minor procedural defense motions. The company holding Chris Ferrell’s bond had agreed to take less than the usual 10% to secure his release, but needed to get court approval, and this was granted. Ferrell also filed a change of address under the conditions of his bond. His next appearance in court will be February 6th.
The Autopsy Report
The autopsy report was also made available for the first time through the Medical Examiners Office. According to the Medical Examiner, Wayne Mills was killed by a gunshot wound to the back of the head, and the death was ruled a homicide. There was also no evidence that the gunshot wound was caused by a discharge at close range because of the lack of soot or gunpowder surrounding the wound, meaning the shot came from distance.
Though some reports had Wayne Mills being shot multiple times, Wayne only suffered one gunshot wound. However, multiple other injuries were found on his body. Wayne’s 4th and 5th ribs were broken, and he had abrasions on his forehead, temple, scalp (unassociated with the gunshot), and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee.
The summary of the autopsy states,
Autopsy findings are significant for an entrance gunshot wound on the posterior parietal scalp with fragment exit and injury to scalp, skull, and brain. A bullet is recovered in association with this gunshot wound. Associated injuries include scalp, subdural, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, fractures to the right frontal and parietal bones, cortical and white matter contusions of the brain, and hemorrhage throughout the wound path. Other injuries include abrasions of the left side of the forehead, left temple, posterior occipital scalp, and abdomen, left-sided rib fractures, and contusions of the lateral chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee. Evidence of therapy and tissue procurement is noted.
The cause of death is a gunshot wound of the head, and the manner of death is homicide.
The ’tissue procurement” noted in the autopsy summary and throughout the autopsy report is for the organs that were removed from Wayne as an organ donor.
The autopsy report also included a postmortem toxicology workup testing for a wide spectrum of substances in Wayne’s body. The report concluded that Wayne’s blood alcohol level was 0.221. Mills also tested positive for amphetamine, at 23 ng/ml. No other substances came back positive. Saving Country Music has tried to confirm or deny if a similar toxicology report was ordered on Chris Ferrell after the incident, but has been unable to obtain that information.
Shooter Jennings Cooperating with Investigators
Questions have arose about the proximity of musician Shooter Jennings and his manager Jon Hensley on the night of the shooting, especially after his name was brought up in court during Chris Ferrell’s bond hearing, as reported by The Tennessean. Writer Neil Hamilton whose book Outlaws Still At Large includes an introduction by Shooter, at one point posted a blog that included many questions about Shooter’s involvement the night of the shooting. After feeling public pressure, Hamilton removed the blog post. Jennings says he left 5 minutes before the shooting happened, and Shooter was not named in the original indictment as a direct witness to the killing. Shooter subsequently posted a comment on a previous Saving Country Music story on the Wayne Mills case, saying,
I assure everyone that I have spoken in detail to the investigators about the events of the night Wayne died. But I also personally believe that speaking publicly about it, at this point, candidly and in detail could hurt the process underway. From what I can tell from the detectives I’ve spoken to, they’re working hard to piece together what happened. I, nor my friends, were there when the actual incident occurred and cannot truly have any answers as to what happened in the moments leading up to it. Just please respect the process — and I’m doing everything personally to understand why such a horrible thing would happen and want to know myself more than anyone. Wayne’s family were terrible victims here and his fans feel that pain because of their love of his music and their loss of his talent. Until this case building is over, I just don’t feel it wise to make a public record. Hope you all can understand…
Wayne Mills Benefit in Nashville
On March 2nd, The Outlaw Music Association will be holding a Wayne Mills Benefit at The Limelight. Announced performers so far include Dallas Moore, Rowdy Johnson Band, Whitey Morgan, Kara Clark, Jesse Keith Whitley, Whey Jennings, Chris Gantry, Tom Ghent, James Austin, Billie Gant, JB Beverley, Buck Thrailkill, Joshua Morningstar, Pete Berwick, Pure Grain, Mike Owens, Brigitte London, Rory Kelley and the Triple Threat, and Larry Fleet, with more to be added.
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For more information on the Wayne Mills case, please read The Death of Wayne Mills 6 Weeks After (Update & Analysis). Saving Country Music will continue to try and keep people updated on the progress of the case.
It has now been six weeks since the shooting death of country music artist Wayne Mills on November 23rd, 2013 at the Pit & Barrel bar in Nashville by Chris Ferrell—the owner of the Pit & Barrel, and the defendant in the case that claims self-defense, and is currently facing 2nd Degree Murder charges brought down by a Grand Jury on December 6th. Ferrel was released on bail on December 16th.
The case has now entered a period where information and progress might be slow, as prosecutors and the defense try to decipher if the matter can be settled with or without a trial. Fans of Wayne Mills may be frustrated by the lack of progress or information, but as Saving Country Music has found out after talking with numerous legal experts, the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office, and the Davidson County Criminal Court, it could take many months, or even longer for the case against Chris Ferrell to resolve, and the killing of Wayne Mills to come to a close.
The next court date for the defendant Chris Ferrell is January 16th in front of Judge Steve Dozier at 9 AM at the Birch Building in Nashville. The date is not considered a pretrial hearing, but a “discussion date” by the court—a procedural court appearance that happens roughly every 4 to 5 weeks during a pending criminal case to determine and update what the status of the case is with the court and all parties.
If new evidence is discovered, a “discovery” date could be filed with the court where the new information would be submitted into the criminal process. A similar instance happened when Chris Ferrell had his bond reduction hearing on December 16th, and a bullet lodged in the wall of the Pit & Barrel not initially discovered by police investigators, but a private investigator hired by Ferrell, was submitted into evidence. Discovery dates are not set on a specific timeline, but transpire if and when a new discovery is made and the date can be set by the courts.
As far as how long it could be before there is a trial set for Chris Ferrell, Susan Niland of the District Attorney’s office says, “You can’t even ballpark how long it could take for a trial to be set.” A lot depends on scheduling between the courts, prosecutors, and the defense attorneys. Since there is only one defendant in the case, it may not take as long as if there were multiple defendants with multiple attorneys.
But a trial may not happen at all. “Each side tries to set a resolution,” Susan Niland explains. “95% of cases resolve without a trial.” That means that Chris Ferrell could decide to plead guilty before the case could go to trial, could work out a deal with the prosecution, either to plead guilty to lesser charges, or to receive a lesser sentence by settling without a trial. Because of the severity of the charges, murder cases tend to go to trial more often, but it can’t be assumed a trial will happen in this case.
As Susan Niland explains, if every case brought by District Attorneys resulted in a trial, the courts would be backed up for decades. It is usually the goal of District Attorneys to settle cases without a trial. It is usually the desire of defendants to settle without a trial as well because a trial is a costly endeavor for a defendant. However if Chris Ferrell believes he is completely innocent of the charges, he may decide to go the trial route. A trial may be the only way Ferrell could fully exonerate himself from the charges, as opposed to taking a plea down to lesser offenses or for a lesser sentence, barring any new evidence surfacing that proves his claim of self-defense and the charges are dropped. Likewise if prosecutors feel the 2nd Degree Murder charges are completely warranted and no deal for Ferrell is fair, the case may still end up at trial.
Prosecutors and the defense negotiate back and forth based on the evidence of the case, the potential motive, and however strong either side feels their case is.
Other Charges Against Chris Ferrell
At the discussion date on January 16th, other charges facing Chris Ferrell from a previous incident could also be brought up. Ferrell faces charges for “Vandalism Under $500,” “Domestic Assault with Bodily Injury,” and “Interference with a 911 Call” stemming from an incident on July 17th where alleged victim Stacey McCoy was allegedly attacked and assaulted by Ferrell. Ferrell broke the key to McCoy’s car and then tried to prevent her from calling 911. This case also resulted in a Grand Jury indictment that was handed down the same day the 2nd Degree Murder charges were brought against Ferrell on December 6th. The charges resulted in their own $2,500 bond, but aside from both cases involving the same defendant, the two cases are autonomous. All three charges in the domestic assault case are misdemeanors.
At one point, two of the three previous charges were reported as having been dismissed. Previously, the general court had decided to only bring the charge against Ferrell for vandalism, but when the matter was brought up to the Grand Jury, the Grand Jury decided to bring all three charges.
Wayne Mills Autopsy Report
Despite numerous reports that the autopsy has been concluded on Wayne Mills, according to the Medical Examiners office, as of today (1-7-14), the autopsy has yet to be concluded. The Medical Examiner estimates it to take 8 to 14 weeks for the autopsy to be concluded, and a report to be filed. The lack of a completed autopsy report also could factor in the progress of either a settlement or a trial.
Besides the misidentification of Wayne as another songwriter Clayton Mills for nearly 10 hours into the investigation that resulted in Wayne’s widow being unable to see the singer before he died, the information on how and where the killing transpired, and where the witnesses were in proximity to the killing leaves many questions. Initial reports said the killing happened inside the Pit & Barrel, and people outside that had left the bar right before the shooting occurred heard gunshots and called the police. But the information that came out during Chris Ferrell’s bond reduction hearing was the Chris Ferrell himself was the one that made the initial 911 call, though outside witnesses could have made subsequent 911 calls.
Also during the bond reduction hearing, The Tennessean reports that “Police found a trail of blood from the parking lot to just inside the front door, where Mills lay, breathing but unconscious.” This statement seems to allude that Mills could have been shot outside the bar, not inside. But Mills could have been shot inside the bar initially, attempted to exit the bar, and then turned around as he started to bleed. However this could have put any witnesses outside in more direct contact with the altercation than the initial reports suggested. Saving Country Music has obtained copies of both indictments from the Grand Jury, from the 2nd Degree Murder charge, and the multiple charges from the domestic assault incident in July. Names of three separate witnesses to the shooting that are not members of the Nashville Police Department are listed in the indictment.
Witnesses & Motive
The Tennessean report from Chris Ferrell’s bond hearing also states, “Ferrell testified that he posed for a group photo at 4:08 a.m. alongside Mills, musician Shooter Jennings, and others. The crowd had dissipated by the time he called 911 to report the shooting at 4:56 a.m.” Shooter Jennings reportedly left roughly 5 minutes before the killing, and is not listed in the 2nd Degree Murder indictment as a direct witness. The other witnesses stated they had cleared out of the Pit & Barrel before the killing occurred. But that doesn’t mean that Jennings and the other witnesses do not have further information that could be important to the case.
The physical evidence from the crime scene is an important element, but if the prosecution is to going to refute that Chris Ferrell acted in self-defense, they must establish a motive of why Chris Ferrell purposely wanted or tried to hurt and/or kill Wayne Mills. These witnesses may have more information on the moments before the killing that could help establish a motive. If the killing was somehow an accident, Chris Ferrell could still be responsible, but the killing may not fall under the jurisdiction of 2nd Degree Murder, but a less-severe manslaughter charge.
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Fans of Wayne Mills may want justice and a quick resolution to the charges stemming from a killing, but murder cases can sometimes take years to resolve. And the Wayne Mills murder case seems to be an especially complex one.
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.
Chris Ferrell, the owner of the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville, and the man accused of 2nd degree murder in the shooting death of Outlaw country musician Wayne Mills, was in court for the first time today (12-16) in a hearing to determine if his $300,000 bond was fair, and if Ferrell was a flight risk. Ferrell attorney David Raybin argued the bond should be set near $25,000, and that Ferrell could have “run for tall weeds” after the shooting, and didn’t. Assistant District Attorney Rachel Sobrero referenced Ferrell’s history of prior arrests, family ties to different states, charges of domestic assault and interfering with an emergency call that were dismissed this year, and that Ferrell has an upcoming hearing on a vandalism charge. The judge eventually reduced the bond to $150,000, and later Chris Ferrell was released with tight restrictions on his movements, and a court order to stay in close contact with his bail bondsman. Ferrell was also ordered to give up his extensive collection of guns. He was released at 6:54 PM.
Further details came out about the case in the hearing, including that Chris Ferrell not only told officers that the altercation between Wayne Mills started with an argument over smoking in a non-smoking section, but that Wayne came to the Pit & Barrel to “rob and kill” Ferrell. Two guns were found at the scene when police arrived: An empty revolver and a semi-automatic handgun. A private investigator hired by Chris Ferrell, former city homicide detective Larry Flair, also found an additional bullet lodged in a wall of the Pit & Barrell, beyond the shots that struck Mills, including the fatal shot to the back of the head according to numerous reports. The indictment of Chris Ferrell came down before the additional bullet was found, and information on whether the bullet was from the same gun used to shoot Wayne Mills, and whether Chris Ferrell is asserting that Wayne Mills was armed has yet to be made available.
More details of the crime scene also emerged. When police arrived at the crime scene, they found a trail of blood from the parking lot to just inside the front door where Mills was laying, breathing but unconscious. There was broken glass surrounding the crime scene, and the two guns were sitting on tables. Chris Ferrell was cooperative with police. What did not come out in the hearing is why it took nearly 10 hours for police to properly identify Wayne Mills, instead believing he was songwriter Clayton Mills.
It also came out today that country artist Shooter Jennings was there on the night Wayne Mills was killed. Shooter Jennings and his manager Jon Hensley had been hanging out with both Chris Ferrell and Wayne Mills earlier in the night and in the days prior to the shooting, along with country performer Jamey Johnson. Shooter Jennings had performed at a show with Wayne Mills two nights before the shooting, and Jennings also performed at the George Jones tribute at the Bridgestone Arena that both Wayne Mills and Chris Ferrell attended together the night before the shooting. Jennings and his manager claim they left right before the shooting occurred.
When Ferrell arrived in court, he was wearing a yellow jumpsuit, meaning he has been placed in protective custody in jail. Ferrell stated that he’s received as many as a dozen death threats from text messages, social media, and voicemail, and that he resorted to wearing a bulletproof vest before turning himself into authorities after the Grand Jury indictment on December 6th.
About this time of year virtually every magazine, website, and blog is bombarding their readership with end-of-year lists of which artists they feel are worthy of the highest praise for their 2013 effort. The whole practice has become a little nauseating for the consumer as the redundancy on many lists and the sheer number of them being pushed through social media erode the underlying concept of the lists: to help listeners break through the din of an overpopulated music landscape to discover the best stuff. Then there’s the ethics questions if music should be approached as competition at all. Ultimately the reason there are so many lists is because they are effective and appealing in helping listeners determine what to listen to.
Included on many, if not virtually all of those 2013 lists, especially in the independent country and Americana realms is the latest effort by former Drive By Trucker turned solo artist Jason Isbell called Southeastern. Seen as the current watermark of his career and a captivating songwriting effort capturing a clear-eyed, post-rehab Isbell at his apex, Southeastern is one of those rare consensus builders amongst critics as one of the year’s best.
Nipping at the heels on some lists, and overtaking Southeastern on others is the debut album High Top Mountain from former Sunday Valley frontman, Kentucky’s Sturgill Simpson. A much more country effort compared to Isbell, but just as bold of a songwriting project, Simpson has many people labeling him as a country music savior, and the artist they have been waiting years for to emerge in the independent country scene.
And not to be outdone is the dark Canadian singing-songwriting vixen Lindi Ortega, and her tantalizing album Tin Star that has also found its way at or near the top of many 2013 lists; an album highlighting her rising voice and remarkable gift for story and composition.
Though the sound of these three respective albums is fairly disparate, their influences are certainly not the same, the artists are from different locales, and the genres they represent are varied shades of the country music theme, they all have one thing in common: a virtually unnoticed and rarely heralded behind-the-scenes producer named Dave Cobb.
Just as the prevalence of year-end lists has grown in recent years, so too it seems has the trend of performing artists getting into the producer game, and big, franchise name producers like T Bone Burnett being heralded more and more for their producer services. Not that someone like Jack White or even Justin Townes Earle can’t make a great producer, or that T Bone Burnett is some kind of slouch. But for some projects, it becomes more about the name on the back of the album in the fine print instead of the name on the front. A producer’s name can be used as a marketing tool, and to create interest from fans and media venues. “The new album produced by the same producer of The Civil Wars!” “The T Bone Burnett-produced debut album, produced by T Bone Burnett!”
The best producers are usually the ones who prefer to remain subordinate to the artists they work with. Similarly, the best producers don’t come in and mold an album to their sound, but help the artists they work with develop their own. Producers aren’t supposed to be noticed. Critics may sometimes mention a producer’s name and how they may have influenced a certain project, but everyday fans just know when they like an album or not. Noticing the production of an album is like noticing an offensive lineman in a football game. It’s rarely a good thing. The focus should be on the music itself.
But that doesn’t mean producers shouldn’t be heralded or receive credit, especially when they’ve had a banner year like Dave Cobb’s 2013. Cobb has enjoyed some other successful albums, and good years in the past too. Similar to how Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Lindi Ortega have become critical darlings in 2013, Jamey Johnson’s last two original albums that graced the top of many end-of-year lists, That Lonesome Song and The Guitar Song, both featured Dave Cobb at the helm. The Secret Sisters’ self-titled breakout album was also produced by Cobb, and so were Shooter Jennings’ first four records. And his list of producer credits goes on and on from there.
But you would never know all of this unless you went poking around, looking for producer credits and connecting the dots. Dave Cobb is not out to perpetuate his cult of personality through his producership role. He’s just looking to make good music. And in 2013, he certainly did.
“Songs About Trucks” performed by Wade Bowen and written by hot songwriting commodities Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally has become one of 2013′s big anti-hits with its off message take on truck songs and their daisy chains of clichés. Usually accompanying these odes to idiocracy are modern country music videos complete with hot rods, hot girls, and jacked up trucks burning brodies in churned up mud, hurdling themselves headlong toward the cause of finding a new frontier for image-driven misogynistic consumerism and sheer indolency. So it is only appropriate that Bowen’s anti-hit should be accompanied by an anti-video.
Shot and produced by James Weems and Glen Rose, the “Songs About Trucks” video co-stars filmmaker Blake Judd of JuddFilms as an overzealous Nashville videographer looking to turn a timid Wade Bowen into an oversexed country star, fitting him with designer duds, dapping makeup on his face as he squints and pouts, while bikini-clad coeds cool down in the water getting ready for their juggy cameos. Eventually Bowen slunks off the set to sit in a bar with a lone cameraman, telling his story in a simple manner.
Just as some have pointed out that songwriter Shane McAnally has had a hand in some of the recent “bro country” songs that “Songs About Trucks” looks to lampoon, filmmaker Blake Judd also has been behind the camera for some “titties and tailgates” shoots, including the Bucky Covington / Shooter Jennings collaboration “Drinking Side of Country” and the Jawga Boyz / Joe Diffie mashup “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun.” It may have been cool if the “Songs About Trucks” video took the sensationalism to the next level, with legions of buxom chicks dancing and an army of mud-caked trucks, but Bowen probably doesn’t have the budget the big boys do. Nonetheless, this video does a good job illustrating what is at the heart of the message of “Songs About Trucks” and Wade Bowen as an artist, which is an honest portrayal of a man who just wants to be seen as one of us, instead of an entertainer on a pedestal.
1 ¾ of 2 guns up. 4 of 5 stars
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.
On August 15th, the plans for the upcoming Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame and an accompanying Outlaw Music Association were made public. 5,000 sq. ft. of space has been allocated for the new Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, TN, and a Board of Directors has been formed that includes Jeremy Tepper of SiriusXM, Terry Jennings of Korban Music Group, author of Outlaws Still At Large Neil Hamilton, Joe Swank at Bloodshot Records, mayor of Lynchburg Sloane Stewart, Professor of Entertainment Law David Spangenburg, architect Thomas Bartoo, and CEO of Sol Records Brian DeBruler.
The announcement stimulated a lot of speculation about what direction the upcoming Hall of Fame would take, but not many serious answers. So Saving Country Music reached out to Gary “Sarge” Sargeant, the spearhead of the Outlaw Country Hall of Fame, to try and clear up many questions about what folks can expect from the upcoming institution.
Sarge is also putting on a charity event coming up October 25-27 for Troy Rector who suffered a debilitating medical accident. The event will be at Chopper Hill in Altamont, TN (More information). The inaugural class of inductees to the Outlaw Hall of Fame will be announced during the event.
You can listen to the entire interview below. For those who prefer a written form, the meat of the interview is transcribed below as well.
Gary Sargeant: I’m a lifelong fan, 55 years old, of Outlaw music, independent artists and labels, and just firmly believe in people who stay true to themselves and their music, and don’t compromise. It all started at a David Allan Coe benefit that I attended back in June. He was in an accident and wasn’t able to tour. I was kind of upset that David Allan Coe required a benefit. That at 73, he had to tour just to pay his bills because back in the day, things happened and he doesn’t own his catalog. And I was trying to think of a way we could support legends, and recognize people like David, or any number of people that have contributed so much to this music, and have never compromised. I wanted to make sure we had a place to recognize those folks who will never get recognized by anybody else, and then also be able to support today’s Outlaws—the Pete Berwick’s, the Gurf Morlix’s. Its time has come, and we’re going to do this.
When you announced the Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame, you included a Board of Directors. Why have a Board of Directors?
Well, again it goes back to me being just a fan. I’m a fan with an idea. But I knew if we were going to do this and be taken seriously, and if it was going to be successful, I needed to put together a group of industry professionals.
The term “Outlaw” has already been taken by Music Row and used for marketing purposes. It’s safe to say that there’s music consumers out there that think Outlaw means Justin Moore, Eric Church, and others. How do you distinguish yourself from Music Row’s version of Outlaws when Music Row’s reach is so vast?
Nashville can tell somebody to dress in black jeans, grow a five day stubble, put on these boots, act all bad boy. That doesn’t make you Outlaw. Outlaw to me is not a genre of music. Outlaw is an attitude. Outlaw is a refusal to compromise your music or your beliefs in order to make a dollar. It is traveling up and down the roads, thousands of miles a year, traveling 500 miles to play a $150 show. True Outlaws are doing it for the love of the music only. I believe there’s going to be a lot of defections from Nashville music once the Outlaw Music Association and Hall of Fame are established and up and running. The definition of Outlaw should be made by those that are truly Outlaw, not some publicist sitting in an ivory tower in Nashville thinking that this will sell records.
Some may say the term Outlaw is outmoded because Nashville is taking it and using it with very prominent artists like Justin Moore—that the term doesn’t hold the same sway or meaning it once did. Are you saying that term needs to be fought for?
I’m saying it needs to be clearly defined. Of course Nashville is going to try and take anything successful and try to co-opt it. But them jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t make them independent artists. They’re playing to a formula. But the formula doesn’t work. Listen to the stuff coming out of Nashville.
How do you feel about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, and how does it fit in your plans for the Outlaw Music Association? Will there be overlap? Could there be potential conflict? Is it splitting the independent-minded or Outlaw populous of country music into two segments?
I wouldn’t think so. My hope would be that people going in that direction, because that’s very narrowly focused right now, I hope they would go, “Hold on a second, here’s something that has come along, that is exactly what we’re trying to do, but encompasses even more people, and hopefully is a very inviting and open Association.” Because I believe if we start putting restrictions on who is going to be in it, then we’re no better than the CMA or anybody else. Great music is great music, whether it be Texas Swing, or Southern rock country, or traditional country. If you’re an artist and you believe in what you’re doing, and you’re good at what you do, we’re going to give you all the support in the world, whether it be Dale Watson, or Shooter Jennings who can go off in different tangents and experiment with different music, or Hank3 who is so excellent. There’s so many artist out there that don’t have a place to call home, and that’s what the Outlaw Music Association is gonna be. It’s gonna be a place where independent labels and artists can receive support, promotion, and have a place they can call home and feel welcomed for who they are instead of something somebody else wants them to be.
We’ve seen in the past, for example with Shooter Jennings’ “XXX” movement and Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, there’s been a lot of conflict and dissension with these attempts to unify the music behind a common purpose. I think that may be what is at the root of some fear and concern of what the Outlaw Music Association and Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame will become. There’s a history of trying to find a uniting element apart from the CMA in the history of country music. Back in the 70′s there was “ACE” that was set up after Olivia Newton-John and John Denver had won CMA Awards. Traditional country artists met at the house of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and tried to form a new thing. The Academy of Country Music was set up because West Coast entertainers felt like the CMA was bias against California country artists. ACE never really took off, and the ACM just became a doppelganger of the CMA….
…and you forgot to mention the AMA, the Americana Music Association.
Sure, which I personally have said in the past is very narrow in focus, even though a lot of the artists they help promote are great artists.
I couldn’t agree with you more. To me, there is an extreme hunger and thirst out there to have an alternative to what’s being pushed down everybody’s throats by Nashville, the record labels, and the conglomerate of radio stations that are out there. Our focus is not narrow. I don’t care if it’s Dale Watson, or Hellbound Glory, or Jamey Johnson, it doesn’t matter. There’s a whole group of artists out there that deserve to be supported. We are not going to impose conditions. If you’re talented, and your music speaks for itself, and your music speaks to fans, our goal is to make sure that we support you. We’re not guaranteeing success for anybody. But we’re not going to say, “You’re not worthy.” Everybody’s worthy if they’re a musician, and they work hard, they write their own music and stay true to it, and they have some fans and are successful, we’re going to make sure they have an opportunity to be even more successful. We are a non-profit. Our proceeds go to supporting the legends, and also supporting the independent artists of today.
The narrowing of perspective seems to be a really big challenge of independent music right now, whether it is with the Americana Music Association, or just these little scenes that have popped up in independent music. How do you insulate yourself from that trend?
Technology is changing by leaps and bounds every month, let alone every year. The money to be made in today’s world is through touring…touring and merchandise. So we are going to support tours. As a non-profit—it’s kind of being dubbed the Outlaw iTunes—where independent artists can upload their music, and we will turn around and allow it to be downloaded for 99 cents a download, and we give all of it back to the artists while not taking 63 cents. We will be asking for a small donation that will go back to the legends. Technology is changing so quickly, and we have some very good people who are up to speed on today’s technology and the future of music distribution. Those are the areas we want to educate independent artists and labels on, and assist them in giving them an outlet to distribute their music, and use the Hall of Fame to support tours, and get [artists] out in front of the people. Are we going to be the savior? Hell no. But are we going to do everything that we can to help these folks who are working so hard and believe in what they’re doing? Yes, we’re going to do everything we can. Is it guaranteeing success? No. Is it guaranteeing effort? Yes.
There’s a lot of people out there touring and writing their own songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their music is valuable enough to be heard by the masses. What’s to keep people who may not embody the Outlaw spirit from just becoming part of this if there’s no governor to keep anybody and everybody from applying?
The fans of Outlaw music are by far the most discerning fans in the world. Otherwise, these artists wouldn’t have any success. An artist will make it if his fans want him to make it. The fans are going to decide if you make it or not, not the Association.
The assertion about Music Row is that they choose who is going to be the stars, and then they push that to the fans. What you’re saying with the Outlaw Music Association is the fans would choose the stars, and the OMA just gives them the platform and the support so that the fans can make that choice.
Eloquently put. And shouldn’t that be the way it is? Shouldn’t the fans be able to say what they like and don’t like? They shouldn’t be told what’s good and not good. With the focus being so narrow and money dictating who is going to be the next star, we’re all robbed. The fans are robbed, the artists are robbed, everybody is robbed of the next potential star. It’s not my job to decide who is good and who’s not good.
Tompall Glaser recently passed away. Right after he died, I posted a quote that came from him back in the 70′s that goes, “Damn it, the fight isn’t in Austin and it isn’t in Los Angeles. It’s right here in Nashville, right here two blocks from Music Row, and if we win–and if our winning is ever going to amount to anything in the long run–we’ve got to beat them on their own turf.” And I’ve heard some similar criticisms about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan genre where it seems like, “Okay, were going to give up on Nashville and country music, and we’re just going to call it what we want to call it.” What would be your rebuttal to that as far as setting up something that’s apart from Nashville and Music Row?
Lynchburg, TN is not but 55 miles south of Nashville. It’s close enough to pull resources from the Nashville area, but still far enough away and separated enough to say, “Hey, this is separate. This is an alternative.” The people, the demographics that are visiting Lynchburg on a daily basis are the same people that are going to visit our Hall of Fame. It’s all about inclusion. This country is based on freedom, and I believe artists ought to have the freedom to practice their music the way they want without the almighty dollar driving their product.
In closing, I would just like to say to all the fans of Outlaw country music, thank you, and if you really want to make a difference, you have an opportunity. But you have to express your voice. You can’t just sit in your truck or in your house and say, “This sucks,” and expect it to change. If you want change, this is your opportunity. This is a grass roots movement. This is your Hall of Fame. This is your Association. If you want to support artists that made the music what it is today, and those that are continuing in that same vein, support the Hall of Fame, support the Association. Let your artists know that you support us, that you support them by supporting us. This is only going to work if the average fan stands up and says, “I’ve had enough. I want a hand in what I listen to.”
If you needed any more proof that The Svengali of Country Music, one Shooter Jennings is all about creating a cult of personality and pursuing his name as product, just sit back and appreciate that in this recessionary economy when many artists are slashing ticket prices and making themselves more accessible, Shooter is now asking his hard working fans for $85 simply for the opportunity to shake his hand right before his show and walk away with a tote bag. Yes, quite a hefty price tag for someone who has recently been touting himself as a proponent for independent, grassroots music.
Announced a few days ago, “VIP meet & greet packages” are being offered at many of Shooter’s upcoming appearances, including at the Muddy Roots Festival this late August. What do you get for your $85? A T-shirt, a tote bag, 5 guitar picks (that grand total will cost Shooter less than $12-$15 wholesale), and this is my favorite one, an “Invitation to pre-show private shopping experience.” That’s right folks, for your hard earned $85, you get the exclusive opportunity to spend even more money on Shooter’s merch. What you don’t get for $85? Actual admittance to the show. That will cost you extra. So will the tacked on fees for buying the VIP ticket. After a transaction and convenience fee, the actual cost for a Shooter photo op is $90.64.
For an artist of Shooter’s size, and even ones many steps above him on the music food chain, this type of arrogant cash grab from fans is absolutely unparalleled. Furthermore, Shooter Jennings specifically asking to be dealt with in this manner of privilege at the Muddy Roots Festival is a complete insult to the standing culture and spirit of that particular festival, and all grassroots festivals for that matter. One of the things that makes grassroots festivals such an enjoyable experience is that nobody is above anyone, there are no VIP perks, and fans and artists interact freely.
Even more curious, the Muddy Roots Festival is one of the few events that Shooter has decided to purposely promote this $85 package for.
In May of 2011, SCM interviewed the Galaz brothers who are the promoters of Muddy Roots. They spoke specifically about the access the festival gives fans to the artists:
Anthony: The fans and bands were together. There was no barricade, no barrier, no VIP sections backstage. And that’s what gave the people who made the pilgrimage to Cookeville from whatever state or country such an experience, because all the bands they listen to, they could just go up and talk to them and hang out with them. There’s was nobody that was “too cool.” There were no pedestals.
Jason: I like that, there were no pedestals. It wasn’t, “Hey, there’s rock stars, let’s look at them, but we can’t talk or touch them.”
In August of 2011, SCM interviewed Zale Schoenborn, the promoter of the Pickathon Festival in Portland that this year is featuring Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, Sturgill Simpson, Caleb Klauder, and many other country acts in a diverse lineup. Zale spoke specifically on how separating artists from fans and setting up VIP perks erodes the festival experience for everyone.
We designed the (Pickathon) space to where you come in and relate to the space without a lot of barriers. And that includes the artists. We don’t wall them off, we don’t have VIP sections, but we do create some communal spaces, and when the artists come out they’re part of the audience. It’s very common sense type stuff. It’s like what you would do if you were hosting people at your house. When people are planning it from X’s and O’s, those decisions about the human element fall to the numbers side. It’s unfortunate because those little things are what people tend to take away.
At last year’s Muddy Roots fest, the 86-year-old country music icon Ralph Stanley stayed after his set and signed every piece of memorabilia brought before him, and took pictures with anyone that wanted one, with no time limit, and no money changing hands for the autographs or photos. So did many of the other bands that played the festival. At Pickathon, after each performer plays, they go to a designated merch area where fans can get memorabilia signed and take pictures with the artists.
The meet and greet marketing tool is traditionally only reserved for large corporate country music festivals and top headliner names way beyond the sphere of Shooter Jennings who is a mid-level club draw at best. Many artists selling out arenas don’t even ask for this type of cash for meet and greets, if they even give their fans the option at all. Many times the meet and greet is for certain members of a fan club or an artist’s message board who have proved their fandom over the years. Even Taylor Swift has a system that rewards the loyalty of fans instead of wealth. At each concert, Swift has a team of people that fan out across the venue looking for attendees that show the most spirit, and hand select them for a free meet and greet opportunity after the show.
Kid Rock made headlines recently announcing he was charging only $20 for tickets for his summer tour, and was also working with venues and promoters to lower prices on food, beverages, and merchandise. “It’s gotten out of hand, price of concerts, the price of entertainment, period,” Kid Rock says. “I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always tried to keep prices what I think are fair, and I’ve always said I’m proud that I can walk around with my head held high and look someone in the eye, knowing that I haven’t taken an un-honest dollar from a working man. I make a lot of money, I can take a pay cut. All my friends are taking pay cuts, that are in unions, that are farming in Alabama, whatever it is. I can surely take a pay cut, too.”
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Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm, or that he will offer even more incentives now, drop the price, or donate the proceeds to charity, and make a big point of shaking people’s hands at shows who didn’t pay the exorbitant fee, because like all of Shooter’s gross missteps, they’re always followed by a cavalcade of excuses and explanations that his surrogates, sycophants, and toadies always believe, while his underlying approach to selling himself as product and using the names of others as stepping stones remains the same.
Like I have always said to independent and underground music entities, you don’t need Shooter Jennings, Shooter Jennings needs you. Like a politician, Shooter has been out kissing babies. Taking artists out to Chuck E Cheese and buying bloggers drinks, playing artists on his radio show and shaking hands with fans over the last few years was simply setup to an opportunity to cash out on the backs of well-meaning underground roots artists, fans, and entities. And if this latest evidence doesn’t prove this to Shooter apologists, nothing will.
I once heard the worse thing a man could do is draw a hungry crowd
Tell everyone his name, pride, and confidence, but leaving out his doubt
I’m not sure I bought those words, when I was young I knew most everything
These words have never meant as much to anyone, as they now mean to me
Since Saving Country Music is in tune with the plight of the common man, and know many of Shooter’s fans would love to get their picture with him but can’t pay the exorbitant fee, we are manufacturing a life-sized, transportable photo-op of the picture below, to be provided at Shooter Jennings’ live performances. Poor, hapless Shooter fans and their friends can simply stick their faces through the provided holes, and have the next best thing to getting their picture taken with the Country Music Svengali himself. And it’s all free! (sorry, no tote bags will be given away)
(7-11-13 9:20 PM CDT): Shooter Jennings and/or his management have decided to drop the offer of VIP packages at festivals. As I said above, “Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm,” and on cue, Shooter surrogate Jon Hensley explains, “There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible.” You can read Jon Hensley’s entire statement below.
With no malice or mincing of words, I commend Shooter Jennings and/or his management for seeing that these VIP upgrades at grassroots festivals were unfair, unfeasible, and against the spirit of independent country and roots music. Though I still believe the price Shooter is asking for his VIP upgrade is egregious and unparalleled for an artist his size, and that the whole culture of VIP treatment has no place in independent roots music, the elimination of the option for festivals helps preserve the camaraderie and the independent spirit that makes these festivals so enjoyable for fans, and gives them a unique experience in music where all patrons are treated equal.
Jon Hensley’s statement:
Just to clarify…we are not offering any VIP ticket upgrades at any festival Shooter Jennings is playing this year or any year. There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible. But, they will ONLY be available for club and theater dates. To any son of a bitch that has a problem with us offering these upgrades you should talk to any of the fans that have actually purchased one. Ask them if they felt like their money was well spent. It is totally laughable that some stupid asshole hiding behind a computer thinks he has the right to tell Shooter’s fans how they should or should not spend their own hard earned money. This is a business and at the end of the day we all have to make smart business decisions to survive. Offering an optional concert ticket upgrade to loyal fans is not wrong or unheard of and no matter what anybody thinks about it we will continue to offer the upgrades until the world comes to an end. And, if any “blogger” has a problem with them they can address it face to face. All you have to do is purchase the ticket upgrade and see us at the meet and greet.
I have no problem meeting someone face to face and explaining my grievances with Shooter’s VIP package, but to act like not doing this initially is some sort of move of cowardice is pretty high school. Where is Jon Hensley at the moment? Is he within driving distance? I don;t have a problem meeting him, but maybe the matter is more practical to deal with through the miracle of internet. Also, nobody is hiding behind a screen. Last weekend I was out in public at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic for 12 straight hours. I’ve been at 4 of the last 5 Pickathon Festivals, the last 2 Muddy Roots Festivals, SXSW a dozen or so times, and live events on a regular basis. If someone wants to come and speak to me in person, I am very accessible, wherever I am. And I don;t say anything on this website that I wouldn’t say to anyone’s “face.”
The rapping grandson of Waylon Jennings, one Will “Young Struggle” Harness, or “Struggle” as he prefers to go by now has a new album out called I Am Struggle, that doesn’t just borrow heavily from Waylon’s catalog, it is downright built from it. 7 of the 9 tracks on the country rap record directly incorporate samples and structures of Waylon tunes in an unprecedented intrusion of rap into the country music format and its catalog of legendary recordings from one of its most legendary artists.
What is the legacy of the sons and grandsons of country music royalty? It is of them getting a break in the music business because of their name, but then immediately rebelling against what the music world wanted them to be, which were living facsimile’s of their predecessors. Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Shooter Jennings, Justin Townes Earle, and on and on, and stretching to the daughters of country music like Carlene Carter and Rosanne Cash; they sweated blood and made deep sacrifices to divest themselves from familial expectations and industry shortcuts bestowed by their names to stand on their own two feet as artists.
With Struggle and this album, the approach seems to be the exact opposite, despite whatever words of explanation may accompany the project. It is taking from the Jennings family legacy and riding it as far as it will take him—so much so that it is hard to tell where Waylon’s music stops, and Struggle’s music begins. With the prohibitive costs of permissions in music these days, I Am Struggle would be impossible for anyone to make that didn’t have a direct line to the Waylon estate. Waylon’s primary estate executors Jessi Colter and Shooter Jennings actively participate in I Am Struggle, with both making appearances on the album. I Am Struggle is nepotism on steroids.
The use of Waylon’s songs in I Am Struggle brings up all sorts of ethical questions. Is it right to do this with a dead man’s songs? Does anyone have the right, beyond the legal aspects, to deem this practice appropriate with any deceased artist? What would Waylon think about country rap, and what would he think about his songs being turned into it? Would Waylon approve of Struggle’s style, and the free flow of iniquitous themes and vulgarity that accompany his music (and now Waylon’s by proxy)?
And that takes us to the actual content of I Am Struggle. Taking Waylon songs and incorporating them with dance beats or even adding rap verses to them is one thing. Taking a classic Waylon song like “Are You Ready For The Country” (originally written by Neil Young) and adding lines like, “Show me what is was and I’ll a show you what it will be. I got my hand on my nuts, can you feel me?” is something else entirely. Struggle’s lyrics commonly touch on criminal activity; a world he knows of first hand, having been indicted on federal drug trafficking charges and served time.
The precursor to I Am Struggle was a country rap single built from Waylon’s song “Outlaw Shit,” a slower, newer version of his classic “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand?” The irony is that in the original Waylon song, Jennings espouses his disdain for the marketing of his music and persona as “outlaw,” and blames it for his own legal troubles. Struggle on the other had embraces this persona, with the words “Gangsta II The Bone” tattooed across his breastplate, and infusing his songs (or Waylon’s) with bellicose, urban gangster jargon and threats. The day Struggle’s “Outlaw Shit” was released as a single, he was incarcerated in a Davidson County jail. Many believe this was a marketing ploy to promote the song.
One thing we can assume is that Struggle has nothing less but undying respect for Waylon and his music. Struggle was not just some distant relative to Waylon that barely knew him who is now riding his name. Growing up, Struggle would spend summers on Waylon’s road crew, and his mother worked for a while as one of Waylon’s backup singers as she pursued her own career in music. However, Struggle has no blood relation to Waylon. His mother is the daughter from Jessi Colter’s first marriage to rock & roll guitarist Duane Eddy. Waylon only became Struggles named grandfather after the Jessi Colter / Duane Eddy divorce.
Something else worth pointing out about Struggle is that he is no Blake Shelton or Jason Aldean, and his songs are no “Dirt Road Anthem.” As I’ve also said about fellow Southern white rapper Yelawolf, Struggle has talent. He has a lot of talent. As offensive as I Am Struggle may be to the legacy of Waylon and to Waylon Jennings fans, some of the songs on the album are quite catchy, and some of the lines are infused with tremendous wit. The problem is with the way they are presented.
Hank didn’t do it this way, and neither did Waylon. Nor did Shooter, Hank Jr., or Hank3. How did we get to this point in country music when taking the life’s work of a country music legend and regurgitating it into vulgarity-laden country rap did not result in downright outspread public outrage? With the Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project, there was protest, and a fundamental feeling that those songs were not anyone’s to do with what they pleased; a feeling shared by the executors of the Williams estate.
Would Waylon approve of this being done to his music? I can’t answer that question. Nobody can answer that question. That is why caution, and deference to the deceased should be used in these instances.
When Taylor Swift won her first CMA for Entertainer of the Year there was outrage because of the sense that country music was living too much in the present moment. I Am Struggle‘s use of Waylon songs is almost an audio version re-writing the past.
One song is one thing. But Struggle has too much talent, and the songs of Waylon are too important, and the subject of country rap too polarizing to make an entire album without the originator of the material being present to voice his pleasure or dissent. I Am Struggle leads country music down a very slippery slope where the catalogs of other country music greats could be opened and re-interpreted by country rappers or for other commercial purposes, forever soiling or superseding the original versions, and eroding their legacy.
On Saturday, Shooter Jennings released a statement through his official Facebook page that accused I, Trigger of Saving Country Music, of participating in the hacking of one of his websites. The germane parts of the post are quoted below, while the entirety of Shooter’s statement can be found at the bottom of this page.
“Moonrunners would be the victim of an attack that would labor our site with malware and a virus…that would be downloaded upon the computer of each person that would visit Moonrunners…The hacker enlisted to do such a thing left his fingerprints all over the site. A few thin layers back we were able to match the IP address within a very close margin of that same person who “sneaker’d” SCM for vulnerability.
This is a federal offense of the biggest kind. These IP addresses have been logged and a case has been opened to investigate the actual steps that led from the cleaning of SCM to the hacking of Moonrunners. I’d be willing to bet that when we discover the actual identity of the IP address we’ve logged, we can match it to someone who posts on SCM.
There will be two options. Trigger, you come clean, or we lean on his hacker until he comes clean for you.”
Saving Country Music’s Official Response to Shooter’s Accusations
I, Kyle Stephen Coroneos, aka “Trigger” or “The Triggerman” from Saving Country Music, swear on my father’s grave, the grave of Christopher Coroneos Jr., who died the day before Christmas Eve 1982 when I was 5 years old, that I had absolutely, positively no involvement whatsoever with the hacking of any website, and especially any website associated, affiliated, or owned by Shooter Jennings. I also swear on my father’s grave that I had no affiliation, knowledge, or offered any material support to anyone who may have hacked any website, at any point.
Furthermore, I, Kyle Stephen Coroneos, aka “Trigger” or “The Triggerman” from Saving Country Music, swear on my father’s grave that if at any point, any evidence is presented that holds up in a court of law proving that I had any direct or indirect involvement with the hacking of any website, then I will completely and totally end the existence of Saving Country Music, take it offline, delete the entire archive, and do my best to clean any record of its existence in any public medium. I also encourage, if not plead with the public to take all of these preceding statements and spread them across the entirety of the internet and print media so as there is no question as to the seriousness and resoluteness of these statements I have made, and that nothing but the most dire consequences would result if they are ever found to be false.
I also declare my willingness to repeat these statements when looking at any individual dead in the eye, or with my hand on a Holy Bible, in a court of law, or when hooked up to a polygraph lie detector machine, so help me God.
Shooter Jennings is a boldface liar. He has absolutely, positively no evidence whatsoever to back up his spurious, irresponsible, and fictitious claims; a truth he admits himself in his own statement. All that has been provided up to this point to coincide with his damaging accusations are disjointed gobbledygook assertions that in no way are intuitively or technically sound. Furthermore Saving Country Music has proven, with evidence that would hold up in a court of law–and that Shooter Jennings himself has admitted to–that Shooter Jennings and his toadies have purposely lied to and mislead people on this very website in a premeditated, systemic, and long-term attempt to expressly and purposely undermine the integrity of Saving Country Music by perpetuating as many as 20 different aliases in the site’s comment sections, including impersonations of specific people, while also spreading other lies similar to the recent hacking accusation through both Shooter’s various internet properties and social network outlets.
Make no mistake, there is nothing that Saving Country Music is more proud of in its 5 years of service to music than its direct and vehement opposition of Shooter Jennings and his irresponsible, and damaging actions towards multiple entities and elements of the music community. It is the opinion of Saving Country Music that Shooter Jennings is the most dangerous, most deceptive artist that exists in the greater country music community, and his recent, irresponsible accusations, presented with absolutely no evidence, are further proof of his pattern of reckless and damaging behavior, if not evidence that a civil crime has been committed by his slanderous attempts to undermine a public enterprise.
And lastly, Shooter’s deceiving and devious attempts at friendship and positivity embedded in his accusations, and specifically his “if/or” statements threatening Saving Country Music with further action, including legal repercussions if it does not “come clean” about its activities involving the hacking of websites, is not just tantamount to blackmail and extortion, it is blackmail and extortion by definition.
Saving Country Music apologizes to all of its readers, proponents, sponsors, and any outside parties who have either been harmed or inconvenienced by the continuing incidences involving Shooter Jennings, and promises to do its best to mitigate any drama in the future. However, when accusations are leveled at Saving Country Music of this magnitude, and in a public forum, it is imperative they be addressed, and addressed in a public forum, to ensure the integrity of the Saving Country Music name.
A More In-Depth Explanation of the Situation
First off, as referenced above, you can read an in-depth and evidence-based analysis of how Shooter Jennings and his toadies lied and attempted to undermine this site ON THIS POST. You can also she where “Jashie P” admitted to using multiple aliases HERE, and Shooter admitted to using multiple aliases HERE.
Listen folks, Shooter Jennings is a self-professed conspiracy theorist, and to forward a conspiracy theory, you don’t need any proof, you simply just need to create doubt. And that is all Shooter is trying to do here. There is no evidence, nor will there ever be evidence, unless it is manufactured, which would be a further entrenching into the criminal nature of his accusation.
Anybody with even the most intermediate understanding of the internet can look at the fundamentals of Shooter’s accusations, and tell that they are false. Every single website is constantly under threats of hacking/cyber-attack/malware intrusions at any time. A website doesn’t need to have enemies to be under threat. As I type these words, Saving Country Music is under cyber-attack from multiple threats. This website goes offline intermittently about 5-6 times an hour, and experiences major outages on a daily basis because of all the spam and hacks attempting to exploit the site. Understand that over 99% of these threats are automated. There is not someone sitting behind a computer, specifically trying to hack into anyone’s site. Bots and spiders crawl the internet and specific websites all the time looking for openings to exploit. If Shooter and Jashie hadn’t been spending so much time on this website perpetuating 20 different aliases attempting to undermine it, and noticed that their own website was standing open to common internet threats, then maybe they wouldn’t have ended up with a hacked site.
A couple of specific things that Shooter said: “he had an outside source check SCM for hacking vulnerability.”
Never happened. I have no idea what this is about. Either this is Shooter fabricating specifics to make his story look more believable, or he has a source that is lying to him, possibly the person who is claiming to be the hacker.
“A few thin layers back we were able to match the IP address within a very close margin of that same person who “sneaker’d” SCM for vulnerability.”
There is no “very close margin” when it comes to IP addresses. Either they are accurate, as were found it the case of Shooter’s aliases on this site, or they are not. Numbers are absolutes by definition.
“But we are smart, especially when it comes to computers and IP tracking.”
Then why didn’t they know that when they were perpetuating over 20 aliases on my site, that I would eventually catch on?
And lastly Shooter has said, “…since the hacker did not use a Tor or a IP cloaking device, the investigation will remain open to secure without a doubt the identity of the hacker.”
Then where is the evidence?!?!
Shooter surmised that since I had the motive, I must have been the one to hack the site. And in the face of a complete lack of evidence, thought that if they said they knew it was me and that they had did evidence (though they really didn’t, and never presented it), I would get scared and fess up before the situation got any worse for me. And then they would never need any evidence.
As much as an evil, conniving bastard as anyone may think I am, understand that I at least believe in honor amongst thieves. As someone who spends on average of 50 hours a week working on a website, and as someone who is a constant, perpetual victim of cyber-attack, the absolute last thing I would want for ANY website is for it to get hacked. In this respect, all website owners, including SCM and Moonrunnners, are allies. I want someone’s website to get hacked about as much as I want someone’s freedom of speech impinged on, which is truly what is at the heart of this matter. Shooter is attempting to silence my dissension with lies and intimidation. It will not work.
Shooter’s Complete Statement from Facebook
THE MOUNTING CASE AGAINST “TRIGGER”
For those of you that aren’t aware of Trigger, he is the “benevolent dictator” of SavingCountryMusic.com. While I value that site as an important source for the independent roots and country movements, there has been much “below the belt” interaction between Trigger and myself. As far as the personal blows are concerned, I don’t spend time worrying about such things, no press is bad press, BUT there is a much bigger problem that has arisen. Not long ago, Trigger posted a reply to “The Gunslinger”, a song from my new record ‘The Other Life’. Somehow folks have assumed that this song had to do with him (I am including his hilarious response to the song as part of this post), again more drama that really has helped us gain traction with the record, which I can do nothing but praise him for.
But for those of you that don’t know the back story with Trigger, at one point JahshieP’s “Outlaw Radio Chicago” was hosted at SCM. JahshieP interviewed me back in 2011, and we quickly became friends. (I’ve just finished producing his band Last False Hope’s upcoming album, which I am very proud of). Anyways, not long after JahshieP and I met, he began to confide in me the nature of the tyrannical sociopathic behavior that Trigger (then Triggerman) had begun to display in terms of his radio show. He asked me if I knew where he could find a home on the internet for his site that he wouldn’t have rules, criticism and restrictions put upon him. As a friend and a fan, I gladly gave him solace at BlackCountryRock.org, and we quickly built the network of radio programs that JahshieP had been envisioning for his internet radio career. This is where the anger began with Trigger.
To make this point very clear, not a year later JahshieP, Adam Sheets, Bob Dean and myself started a blog called Moonrunners, that would be our outlet for our perception of the world, and the burgeoning roots movement happening around us. We were fans and we wanted to be yet another source (not a competition) for this culture and music. We’ve had some success, including a sold out Chicago festival that JahshieP put together all himself that added to the already institutional Muddy Roots and Farmageddon Records Festivals helping expose America to this great new movement of music.
But we are smart, especially when it comes to computers and IP tracking. Not a day or so before Trigger posted his response, he had an outside source check SCM for hacking vulnerability. Hmmm… Could this be because he thought maybe his response would anger us enough to hack his site? No way! We don’t operate that way, that would be a childish maneuver and would be uncalled for really. His article wasn’t slanderous (even though many have been before). But little did we know that not 5 days later Moonrunners would be the victim of an attack that would labor our site with malware and a virus (a relatively non-functional amateur one at that) that would be downloaded upon the computer of each person that would visit Moonrunners.
Hmmm. What happened here? All of a sudden we were hacked and basically blackballed from Google for the time being. What a random attack right!? Terrible luck I guess! Just kidding! We have trackers, internet bloodhounds if you will. And those dogs tracked the attack to JahshieP’s account (which he happened to use the same password from his years at SCM for — not the smartest move — but in this case a bear-trap of monumental proportions). The hacker enlisted to do such a thing left his fingerprints all over the site. A few thin layers back we were able to match the IP address within a very close margin of that same person who “sneaker’d” SCM for vulnerability.
This is a federal offense of the biggest kind.
These IP addresses have been logged and a case has been opened to investigate the actual steps that led from the cleaning of SCM to the hacking of Moonrunners. I’d be willing to bet that when we discover the actual identity of the IP address we’ve logged, we can match it to someone who posts on SCM.
There will be two options. Trigger, you come clean, or we lean on his hacker until he comes clean for you.
I’m sure the response here will be that he doesn’t know what we’re talking about, and this post can disappear into oblivion, but just be aware this data has been stored, logged, and is being examined by folks who take this kind of thing very seriously. I look forward to finding out where this goes. It may take a year, but the man who did the dirty work for the dictator may be wise enough to perk up and let us know what happened before he gets into more trouble than he may be able to handle. I don’t believe in coincidences, and in this situation the mounting case against Trigger seems very grim. Let’s hope all parties take credit for what has gone on and maybe there can be some forgiveness had before things get very sticky, but at this point in time, it seems as if hardball must be played by all parties.
So please, if you are a fan of this, and want the drama to end, as I do and all of our friends do, realize what kind of game is being played and what the ultimate score is. I’ve begged Trigger to be friends, and I hope in the future we can be, and if he fesses up to this extremely base act, maybe we can all find a way to co-exist, but until then, we will continue to investigate this until there is nothing but proof to lay on the table.
If we are wrong, then then coincidences are real and the easter bunny is a really cheap son-of-a-bitch.
For a couple of years now, a nasty rumor has prevailed on the dirty internet that I would quote “NEVER (in all caps) mention Fifth on the Floor.” Of course the perpetrators of that rumor failed to recognize that before it even started, I was playing the band’s song “Distant Memory Lane” on my KOOK radio show out of Junction, TX at the time. It wasn’t because of some preconceived bias against the band that I decided not to write a review for their last album Dark and Bloody Ground, it was because despite my appreciation for “Distant Memory Lane” and a few of their other songs, I felt Fifth on the Floor’s effort was average. And being Southern rock by their own definition somewhat put it out of my jurisdiction to begin with. I review albums that I can find words for. This requisite precludes many albums from being reviewed, even good and great ones.
Ashes & Angels as a whole is a more solid offering from the Kentucky-based band, but again suffers somewhat from the same issues of their previous work. You get the sense when listening to Fifth on the Floor that they really want to be professional musicians for a living, and work really hard towards that goal. This is opposed to playing music for life, as an undying necessity for sanity and self-preservation that tends to result in wholly original expressions of breathtaking impact on the heart and mind.
Though it wouldn’t be fair to call all Fifth on the Floor’s songs and words cliche, they hover just slightly above this label, residing in well-worn lyrical grooves. In Southern rock this is acceptable, a lot more acceptable than it is in country because Southern rock tends to build out from the guitar riff. But since Fifth on the Floor dabbles in country a lot more than your average Southern rock band, it brings this criticism of lyrical quality into play. At the same time, the new paradigm for Southern rock bands here in 2013 is to be more progressive lyrically, and this is evidenced in bands like Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, The Alabama Shakes, and Glossary as examples. Fifth on the Floor fits more of the old school classification of Southern rock, but even Lynyrd Skynyrd had their moments of thoughtful and original soliloquy. Fifth on the Floor seems to be trying to achieve moments of depth, and sometimes they do. Sometimes. If they exclusively presented themselves as a “fun band,” that would render deep lyrical criticism as unwarranted.
Shooter Jennings produced this album, and even if you tried you couldn’t get away from that fact. In much of the verbiage and marketing accompanying this album, Shooter’s name is presented before the name of the band or the album. This is pretty uncommon in music, but not unheard of. It is done with T Bone Burnett and a few other producers, but always feels like a disservice and a sign of disrespect to a band. The name of a producer should never be more than an interesting footnote, and never the most forward piece of information presented by a project. In fairness to Shooter Jennings, this is likely not his fault. Label reps and publicists tend to focus in on big names involved in projects to buzz them in the media.
As evidenced by Ashes & Angels, Fifth on the Floor doesn’t need to piggy back off of any name. They are a tight knit group of musician friends with formidable musical skills and a top notch ear for arrangement and composition. Despite the average songwriting effort– an effort that still boast some elevated moments–the appeal for this band rests in their ability to get you to lose yourself in the music. And it could be said that the only reason you recognize the lyrical shortcomings is because the music is so good. The music of songs like “Whiskey” and “Burnin’ Nashville Down” is superb, but the lyrics give you the sense that you’ve heard this one before…a few times before.
There’s a set of very curious musical decisions on Ashes & Angels as well–efforts at boldness that in places are pulled off, and others that make you crook your neck like a dog when they hear a strange sound. In a couple of instances, this album makes you want to outright cover your ears with attention-grabbing incongruent guitar interjections that interrupt the mood and groove of the song. It would be easy to blame Shooter Jennings for these miscues, and they do match the signature of similar elements on Shooter’s last two albums. But we don’t know that to be the case. In the end it’s Fifth on the Floor’s name on the front of the album, and they deserve all credit or blame.
The song “Shotgun” is going along just fine until the slide guitar begins to careen out-of-control, ending in a dissonant and obnoxiously-loud screech. This same approach rears its ugly head again in “Wild Child” when an extremely loud, high-octave assault of the eardrum transpires out of nowhere. The beginning of “One Big Holiday” is when I finally began to identify with Fifth on the Floor’s songwriting, but then come to discover it is a My Morning Jacket cover, and then here comes this overly-processed guitar scream in what is supposed to be a sincere and subtle song.
Beyond the awfulness of the performances, these elements are way too loud in the mix, more loud than your average guitar solo, like they are meant to be the most prominent ingredient on the album. Instead they constitute the music version of fake hustle. Fifth on the Floor is manned by good players, so why resort to bits and acrobatic music stunts for attention? The instrumental “The Last Opry” may also fall into this category for some, but in this instance the performance is all tone, evoking the mud dripping roots of the music in a rousing and engulfing experience of sound. This was the approach some of the other solos begged for, but instead received the Steve Vai stunt guitar treatment.
One of the greatest moments in Ashes & Angels is when the angelic Rachel Brooke lends her voice to possibly the album’s most well-written song “Wine.” If anyone needed yet another piece of evidence that Rachel Brooke should be bestowing her tone to music projects far and wide, here it is, and the lyrics of the song rise up to meet Rachel’s timeless contribution. But her duet partner and Fifth on the Floor’s primary vocalist Justin Wells, who throughout the album delivers really energetic performances, gets unnecessarily timid around Rachel, making an uninspired and eepish counterpart instead of meeting Rachel’s challenge. Maybe Justin didn’t want to get in her way, but if that was the case, he shouldn’t have sung at all instead of stumbling around with the task.
Yes, I have a lot of criticisms of this album, but in the end music is there to be enjoyed, and when skipping over certain decisions pertaining to this album, Ashes & Angels is a very enjoyable work, maybe even more enjoyable than the heady poeticism of some of the more progressive Southern rock bands. Like all Southern rock bands must possess, there’s a kinship here amongst Fifth on the Floor’s members that translates into their songs and recordings, giving them an infectious and fun vibe. This is music you feel a part of. It is easy to identify with and relate to. Fifth on the Floor possess an intuitive sense of what sounds good to the Southern ear, and an elevated musical skill set to pull it off.
“Whiskey” is a really enjoyable, straightforward country jam that you can’t help but get your arms swinging to. The aforementioned “The Last Opry” might be one of the album’s best autonomous performances. “Wine” is one for the ages, and may have been even without Rachel Brooke’s participation, as would be “One Big Holiday” sans the synthesized guitar solo.
But I want more from this band. There’s too much music, and too many bands out there right now to be nothing less than wholly original and strikingly bold. And not bold with strange, risky wank-off guitar moments, but with deep down expressions evoked from the inner depths of the human soul–expressions that meet the music Fifth on the Floor is throwing down. 2013 is not the year of the guitar, it is the year of the song.
In the end, there’s more to like on this album then there is to not like.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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