Around the passing of The Possum in 2013, I remember the news of his widow Nancy setting up an endowment and scholarship fund for Middle Tennessee State University, or MTSU, in the name of George Jones. What I didn’t know, and what has gone somewhat under-reported, is that the passing of George and the endowment encouraged the faculty of MTSU to enter a class on the life of George Jones into the school’s curriculum. That’s right, there’s a George Jones college course you can take, where you’ll learn all about what is arguably the greatest voice in country music of all time.
The first class for Possum 101 convened for the fall semester in 2014, and was taught by the accomplished songwriter Odie Blackmon. Some of Odie’s most recognizable cuts include George Strait’s #1 “She’ll Leave You With A Smile,” and Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” Billboard named him 2005′s “Hot Country Songwriter” and he’s been featured in publications as far ranging as The New York Times and American Songwriter. Odie regularly writes with Americana heavyweight Jim Lauderdale, and works with many young aspiring songwriters. So why would a man this decorated want to potentially take away from his bread and butter of songwriting to teach a bunch of college students who may or may not care about some some mutton-chopped country singer mostly popular in the last century?
I had to talk to Odie Blackmon, and ask him exactly how this George Jones class came about, and what stimulated him to teach it.
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How did MTSU’s “Possum 101″ come about?
During the last Christmas break, I was being lazy, surfing around the internet, and I came across that MTSU was looking for a songwriter professor, and that it was a full-time, tenured track gig. I’d been teaching one class at Vanderbilt for the last five years. I’m at an age now where I still love songwriting, but there’s a real joy in working with young people and having something to give that maybe isn’t so appreciated on Music Row. I watched all the video of the ceremony at George Jones’s grave, and Nancy (George’s widow) had given an endowment to MTSU. And in the interview, Beverley Keel, who is a chairperson at MTSU, said she’d love to have a class on George some day. I heard that and thought, “Man, that would be a dream to be able to teach a class on George Jones.” So when I went to MTSU for the interview about the songwriting class, I told the hiring committee that if they were still interested in the George Jones class, “I’m your man.” This is what I love. So I got the gig as their songwriting professor, but I also got to teach the class on George Jones.
I got hired in the spring and had the summer to research and get ready, so I spent the summer really researching George Jones. I went down to the library archives and got a bunch of pictures from The Tennessean. I got in touch with Bobby Braddock, and Braddock was really shy about it at first, I guess maybe worried about protecting the legacy of the song, but he sent me the original demo of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and then a whole written history of how the song developed and everything that happened. I thought I knew a lot about George Jones, but I got to learn a lot more.
What can students expect from the George Jones class?
Well, we’re going to listen to a lot of music, and try to find out who George Jones was. The books that are out there on George, it’s kind of like Keith Richards’ book, or the Townes Van Zandt documentary. They glorify the demons, or they focus on them so much. It was a part of it. Art imitated life and life imitated art. But I didn’t want to go in to a bunch of college students and have them walk away thinking, “That’s how you become a great country music songwriter or singer.”
What I want them to understand was that George, who came from such a rough area like The Big Thicket in Texas, and had some shame from being poor and not ever being around the things he experienced in Nashville. He suffered from depression. His father was abusive. And I want them to see that what went into making this guy one of the greatest singers was a lot of that pain. But a lot of that pain and melancholy also caused a lot of his problems. They didn’t have the knowledge back then to know how to deal with it. It was more of a moral dilemma. It’s not to set the story straight. George did some bad things sometimes, and I’m not excusing him. But there’s a better way to go about it than, “Here’s another crazy story.” I was drawn to country music because of some of that. I related to it. But with George, I kept saying that if he was the greatest country music singer of all time, why aren’t we focusing more on that?
One thing people can expect in the class is that one night we listen to the recording of “Love Bug.” There’s ten takes of the song that they cut in Nashville. And then there’s about eight takes from out in L.A. And it’s so weird to hear how they were trying to find that sound to get to what we know today as the record. They had a really bad harmonica on it out in L.A. Listening to the record all these years, it makes you think, “What were they thinking?”
How is the course being received? How was it attended?
It filled up, which this first time was 18 or 19 students, and they’re moving me to a bigger room for the next one. There were some kids who kind of knew who George Jones was, there were a few that didn’t really have any idea, and I would say I had four hardcore kids that you could tell they grew up around his music.
One of the challenges was to put them in the mindset of the different times. Most of the kids knew about the Grand Ole Opry, but most of them didn’t know about the Louisiana Hayride. And so for me to give them the impression of what it meant to an artist to have that boost, I show them a video on the Louisiana Hayride, and we listen to some live performances. It’s getting them into the mindset that he didn’t have running water or a toilet inside when he grew up. Kids that are 19 or 20 today, it’s hard for them to relate to that.
In the first class they all did final projects because I thought it was a little weird to have a final exam that would be like, “What is George Jones’ birthday?” So they did projects, and one of my students did a presentation on George’s funeral that he went to and sat outside, camped out with his friends the night before, and so he had pictures and everything, and that was really cool. It’s interesting because a guy like George Jones could appeal to a country fan, or the hippest rock cat. I had one rock and roller in the class that I think really started getting into listening to a lot of old country because of it. And then I had another kid who was more into Americana, and for his final project he went out and rented a Nudie suit costume, and went to the barber and had his hair buzzed like a flat top like George, and showed up to class that night and sang “She Thinks I Still Care.”
I think they can tell that this stuff is important to me, that I’m trying to share with them something that I think is important.
You’ve had some major cuts with some big stars, and here you are deciding to take of your time when you could be trying to write more songs and trying to cut them, and instead you’re trying to reach out the youth of America and teach this class. Where exactly did that come from?
I don’t know, sometimes I think it’s stupidity (laughing). I’m from southern Arkansas, and when I left home I went to California because of the music like Dwight Yoakam and The Desert Rose Band and of course Buck and Merle, and Nashville just seemed a lot closer to Arkanasas, and California seemed pretty cool. But after the Rodney King riots I came to Nashville with this bullheaded passion that I like what I like. I’ve been put with publishers and tried to do what is demanded, but I’ve just never been one of those writers that cranks out a ton of tunes. I think I write a lot, but some cats write every day. All I’ve ever been able to do is follow my heart, and believe me, I probably could have made a lot more money.
We’re going through some major changes in our culture. It’s not just country music. It’s going to be a lot harder for young people to touch the old country music, and I realize I’m a link to it. I spent time writing a song with Harlan Howard and learned from him. I got here in time to reach out and touch some of it. Not a lot of it, but a little of it. And that’s something that I have to give. And to be honest, that stuff isn’t appreciated on Music Row, and it feels good that somebody wants to know about it, and I can help.
Like my buddy Jim Lauderdale who I write with a bunch and I’m good friends with, I’m not a performer, but Jim can write and do his thing in town, and he has his release of going out and doing his artistic thing. And he gets that satisfaction. Since I’m really not a great singer, teaching has given me that release.
Are you still writing songs?
Oh yeah. I took quite a bit of time off to get things rolling that first semester, but my plan is to write two days a week, and then Jim [Lauderdale] and I usually write on the weekend. Where I’m at right now I just want to try to write stuff I like and not be under any pressure from a publisher.
Where the Grand Ole Opry took a hit to its reputation amongst traditional country music fans in the late oughts for trying to get too young and too quickly, the last couple of years have seen a resurgence of interest in the institution from traditionalists as it seems to have shifted to making sure the roots of the genre are well exposed on its slew of weekly shows. The quote attributed to Opry General Manager Pete Fisher for years was that he wanted to see less gray hairs on the stage and in the audience, but in the last few years the trend has been anything but.
This may not be a symptom of a change of heart in the Opry management however. It may be out of necessity as more an more of the Opry’s newest members continue to shirk their obligations to the show, and older artists who are more available and willing to play the hallowed stage for minimal pay slide in to fill the void.
Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay runs the always curmudgeoney, but equally well-researched Fayfare’s Opry Blog, and his yearly recap is always a must-read for Opry fans and industry types. In 2014′s installment, Byron explains that the Opry performances continue to be handled more and more by older artists—something older country fans may applaud, but something that may not bode well for the institution moving forward.
Every Opry member is expected to make at least 10 appearances on the show each year. That’s way down from previous requirements. For example in 1963, the requirement was 26 appearances, and by 2000 the number had dropped to 12. Though the exact way appearances are tabulated depends on who you talk to, with some saying weekend performances by a big star can count for additional appearance credits, when some younger artists are appearing only once or twice, it becomes pretty clear their obligations aren’t being met.
For example in 2014, Darius Rucker, the former frontman of Hootie & The Blowfish who was a controversial pick in 2012 as a new inductee, only appeared twice at the Opry, despite the adulation he spilled out when his membership was announced. Blake Shelton, who might be the Opry’s most famous side stepper of duties amongst recent inductees, also made only 2 appearances, as did Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley. And Rascal Flatts, 2011′s controversial pick for induction, made 6 appearances. The newest inductee Little Big Town made 8, but wasn’t inducted until later in the year.
Out of the 67 current members of the Opry, only 25 of them fulfilled their 10 appearance obligation, and three of those (“Little Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy C. Newman, and George Hamilton IV), died during the year. 11 members didn’t make any appearances at all.
But what may be more interesting is who is appearing on the Opry to take up the slack. Out of the Top 11 members of the Opry in 2014 in regards to the number of appearances made, calculated by Opry historian Byron Fay, there were no artists who were in their 20′s, 30′s, 40′s, or even 50′s in age, and there were only three artists in their 60′s out of the Opry membership. That means the majority of the top Opry performing members are in their 70′s or older. Of the Top 11 performing members at the Grand Ole Opry in 2014, the average age was 79-years-old, taking in account that a couple of the top performers are groups and can change the math with individual members.
- Jeannie Seely -88 Appearances – Age: 74
- Riders In The Sky-68 Appearances – Age: (Leader Doug Green) 68
- Bill Anderson -67 Appearances – Age: 77
- John Conley -67 Appearances – Age: 68
- The Whites-67 Appearances – Age: (Leader Buck White) 84
- Connie Smith-64 Appearances – Age: 73
- Jim Ed Brown-50 Appearances – Age: 80
- Bobby Osborne-47 Appearances – Age: 83
- Little Jimmy Dickens-39 Appearances – Age: 94 (deceased)
- Jesse McReynolds-37 Appearances – Age: 85
- Jean Shepard-34 Appearances – Age: 81
So much for Pete Fisher’s plan to reinvigorate the Opry with younger talent.
Zooming out even farther and looking at the 25 members who played the Opry their appropriate 10 times, only one is below 50-years-old, and that’s Carrie Underwood at 31. She is the only current top tier mainstream artists who consistently meets her Opry obligations. No other member in the Top 25 in appearances is even in their 40′s, and only 4 of them (Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan, Craig Morgan, and Mike Snider) are in their 50′s.
Old Crow Medicine Show, who was 2013′s new inductee, played the Opry 9 times in 2014.
Meanwhile as many Opry members are shirking their duties, non members are also taking up much of the slack. Chris Jansen made 32 appearances in 2014, and The Willis Clan made 30. But they are not members. Elizabeth Cook, Sarah Darling, and The Henningsens made 16 appearances each throughout the year. As historian Byron Fay points out, “Would the Opry be any worst having these folks as members versus those who are members and do not show up?”
So what does this all mean? It’s sort of a mixed bag, depending on your perspective. In the end, the word out on the street is that The Grand Ole Opry remains profitable, and so as long as that’s the case, the higher ups are likely to be happy with the way Pete Fisher is managing the institution. And older artists playing the Opry generally means a more traditional sound emanating from WSM come Opry time. But for the institution to remain viable, it must bring in new blood, and it must entice mainstream-relevant talent to at least pay attention to the institution. What good are rules if nobody follows them? There may be a lot of loyal Opry listeners and attendees who are happy Darius Rucker and Blake Shelton aren’t making more appearances, and that older artists are getting more opportunities. But that doesn’t make it right that these artists have signed up to be members, and are not fulfilling their quota to country music’s most storied institution.
A country music legend, and one of the oldest living country music performers from country’s golden era is in critical condition in a Nashville area hospital. “Little” Jimmy Dickens, one of the most venerable members of The Grand Ole Opry and a country music Hall of Famer, was admitted to the hospital on Christmas for an undisclosed illness. He just turned 94-years-old on December 19th, and performed on December 20th as part of the Opry’s birthday celebration on his behalf.
“Little” Jimmy’s wife, his family, and The Grand Ole Opry are asking for prayers for the ailing artist, who symbolizes one of the very last living links to country music’s legendary past. Dickens became a Grand Ole Opry member in 1948 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983. When Hank Locklin died in 2009, “Little” Jimmy became the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry, and still regularly appears on the program. He was born in Bolt, WV in 1920, and was nicknamed “Tater” by Hank Williams for his short, 4′ 11″ stature.
Cards and well wishes can be sent to “Little” Jimmy Dickens via the Grand Ole Opry at the address below. Saving Country Music sends its thoughts and prayers out to the ailing star.Jimmy Dickens c/o Grand Ole Opry House 2804 Opryland Drive Nashville, TN 37214 - – - – - – - -
***UPDATE (12-31) - “Little” Jimmy Dickens is improving according to Grand Ole Opry general manager Pete Fisher. “Each day brings noticeable improvements, and his doctors seem very pleased with the progress he is making,” Fisher says. “I, along with his family, are grateful to all for your thoughts and prayers.”
If you’re looking for names to populate your most anticipated projects to be released in 2015, putting Mo Pitney at or near the top would be a savvy choice. With a one in a million country voice conveyed in a smoothness we haven’t heard since Don Williams, Mo Pitney is a chill-inducing traditional country artist with a succulent pentameter and delivery, and a songwriter’s pen engorged with cutting and resonant lines and stories. A handsome young man with nothing but a promising future in country music ahead of him, Pitney could become one of the fore bearers to making true country cool again like a modern-day Randy Travis.
Mo Pitney has been showcasing his songs and voice through traditional avenues over the past few years and has shined every time. A January 2013 episode of Pitney with mentor Bill Anderson by his side on RFD-TV’s excellent showcase Larry’s Country Diner has since become a must-see installment. From his originals like “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning,” to his cover of Keith Whitley’s “Miami, My Amy,” the cat was out of the bag about Mo Pitney’s country music powers after the show. He was signed to Curb Records by May of this year, and made his Opry debut on June 20th care of Bill Anderson, dazzling the crowd and receiving a standing ovation for his song “Cleanup on Aisle Five.”
Ahead of his much-anticipated album, Pitney has released the first single simply called “Country” co-written with Anderson and Bobby Tomberlin. Smartly crafted to where it captures a relevant sentiment without being a party to pandering to anything or straying away from Pitney’s core, “Country” highlights Mo’s promise of being a classic-sounding artist with the ability to capture a mainstream audience. Authentic as the day is long, Pitney touches on what could be considered the listing off of countryisms, but avoids all of the obvious ones to take a more subdued and warm thematic approach to explaining what “country” really is.
For country music to extricate itself from the iron grasp of Bro-Country and the overriding influence of other genres, it’s going to need artists who don’t need to rely on gimmicks and trends to find appeal, but that can champion the virtues of country itself and illustrate its charisma to a new generation of listeners. Mo Pitney is an artist with the promise and the proper tools to do this very thing.
Tonight (10-3) on the Friday night presentation of the Grand Ole Opry, Capitol Records recording group Little Big Town was surprised by Reba McEntire on stage and invited to become the newest members of country music’s most storied institution. Of course they accepted, and will be officially inducted on October 17th. Little Big Town for all intents and purposes is filling the membership spot vacated by Opry legend George Hamilton IV who passed away September 17th.
Now Little Big Town, like so many of the Opry’s newest members, can take the accolades and attention the distinction bestows, but not fulfill their performance obligations. Of course, nobody can guarantee this will happen, but we all know it will. Only appropriate that Reba would be the one to formally invite Little Big Town to the institution, since she is one of the Opry members that is most in arrears with meeting the solemn obligation to the institution of giving them at least 10 appearances a year, way down for the 26 appearances Opry members were asked for in 1963. According to Opry historian Byron Fay, Reba was recently quoted as saying she did not want to appear at the Opry because it “no longer fits her image.”
Though Little Big Town in no way represents the worst that country music has to offer in 2014 and have been singing and performing together since 1998, songs like their most recent single “Day Drinking,” or the unfortunate “Pontoon” in no way help either country music or the Grand Ole Opry put their best foot forward or preserve the roots and spirit of the genre or the institution. In fact when Reba came out on stage to offer Little Big Town the invitation, they were playing “Pontoon,” and Reba joined them in singing the word “Motorbotin’,” alluding to the activity of taking ones face, firmly ensconcing it into the bosom of a well-endowed woman, and blowing back and forth, immortalized by Vince Vaughan in the movie Wedding Crashers.
“I didn’t want to stop singing,” Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town said. “Who misses an opportunity to sing ‘motorbotin” with Reba? It was incredible.”
Though there certainly would be worse choices for the latest members of the Grand Ole Opry, here’s a list of 35 artists who would have been better picks in Saving Country Music’s humble estimation.
- Hank Williams
- Willie Nelson
- Merle Haggard
- Dwight Yoakam
- George Strait
- Kris Kristofferson
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Miranda Lambert
- Jamey Johnson
- Lee Ann Womack
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Zac Brown
- Kellie Pickler
- Rosanne Cash
- Dale Watson
- Mark Chesnutt
- Jo Dee Messina
- Sam Bush
- Kacey Musgraves
- Elizabeth Cook
- Easton Corbin
- Asleep At The Wheel
- Aaron Watson
- Gene Watson
- Gary Stewart
- “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan
- Lyle Lovett
- Sturgill Simpson
- Aaron Tippin
- Rhonda Vincent
- Radney Foster
- Chris Scruggs
- James Hand
- Brandy Clark
- Wayne “The Train” Hancock
And for the record, Little Big Town, according to Saving Country Music’s official Opry member endorsement aggregator, would have come in at #228 as a new member pick, right behind Earl Dibbles Jr.
Jim Lauderdale. He should be a member too.
Video of Reba Asking Little Big Town to Become Opry Members:
Jim Ed Brown, member of the influential early country family band The Browns, esteemed solo artist, and long-time devoted member of the Grand Ole Opry, has been diagnosed with lung Cancer. Brown made the announcement today after he was forced to cancel a few shows recently.
“Some of you may have heard various rumors since I have had to cancel a few shows over the past few weekends. To clarify and put those rumors to bed, I wanted to just come out and explain what is going on,” Jim Ed said in a statement. “Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. At that time, I was in shock and scared as I didn’t know what that really meant. After testing, the doctors have asked me to take the next 4 months off from touring and to focus on chemotherapy and radiation treatments to shrink the cancer cells. I will keep you all updated on the progress. I am forever grateful for the love, support, and prayers during this time.”
Jim Ed also posted a video taken today (9-30) after his very first Cancer treatment. “I just had my first treatment today,” Brown says brandishing a bandaged arm and looking confident and healthy, “And I’m going to beat it with chemo and radiation. But I want to thank you for your prayers and support. And I’m going to beat this little thing called Cancer, and I’m going to be all right in the next, well, maybe four months, okay? See you next year!”
80-year-old Jim Ed Brown was born in Sparkman, Arkansas, and began playing music with his sister Maxine in a duo, and later with sister Bonnie in the music group The Browns. The family band was big on the Louisiana Hayride and the Ozark Jubilee, and had numerous hits, including the #1 “The Three Bells” in 1959. In 1963 The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry, and Jim Ed has been a fixture on the Opry stage ever since. The Browns disbanded in 1967, but Jim Ed pursued a solo career, scoring his first hit “Pop A Top” in 1967, and multiple hits throughout the 70′s including the #1 “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.”
Jim Ed currently hosts a syndicated two-hour radio show called the Country Music Greats Radio Show. He lives in Brentwood, TN with his wife Becky.
The question about David Allan Coe has never been if he’s a badass, but if he’s a little too badass. Some of his stories are hard to believe. Others are even harder to validate. And others are hard to herald because of the malevolent nature of the occurrences or outcomes. David Allan Coe is a living dichotomy. He’s a scary, weird, train wreck of a man; one of these people we all knew growing up in school or in the neighborhood that was always in someone’s face and that could twist off at any moment. At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, David Allan Coe is an American treasure, and a country music legend. And country music, and the rest of the world, would be a lot less of a colorful place without him. Because whether you like him, respect him, or hate him, there will never be another person or performer in country music or the American culture like David Allan Coe.
More in this series:
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Wanda Jackson Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
- 10 Badass Kris Kristofferson Moments
- 10 Badass Alan Jackson Moments
1. Spending 20 Years In Reform School & Prison
In a genre of music where what you’ve done and how you lived goes a long way into putting legitimacy behind the songs you sing, David Allan Coe’s story is arguably filled with more street cred than any other major performer in the history of the genre. Institutionalized from 9-years-old in reform schools, David Allan Coe committed crimes such as robbery and grand theft auto in early adulthood, and ended up in and out of jail and prison for two decades. Though Coe claims a lot of miraculous meetings with former and future famous individuals and other rowdy incidents while in the pen, including killing a man in self-defense and spending time on death row (see at bottom), one claim that is widely accepted is that while incarcerated in Ohio, Coe met fellow Ohio native Screamin’ Jay Hawkins who encouraged Coe to pursue songwriting. David’s rough and tumble early life would go on to lay the foundation for future songs that would help shape the sound of country music. When he finally got out of prison in 1967, he stayed out, and put together one of the most legendary, curious, and colorful country music careers the genre has ever seen.
2. Living In A Hearse / Parking It at the Grand Ole Opry
After getting out of prison in 1967, David Allan Coe moved to Nashville to pursue his country music career. He was homeless at the time, and lived in the back of a red Cadillac hearse that he parked regularly in front of the Ryman Auditorium—aka the “Mother Church of Country Music” where the Grand Ole Opry was conducted at the time. Crudely decaled to advertise the Opry, as the crowds came and went, there was David Allan Coe busking in front of the famed venue. It was his way of getting the attention of the industry. What was the result? It worked. Plantation Records recognized Coe and signed him to the label. Coe’s first two albums—Penitentiary Blues and Requiem for a Harlequin—were through Plantation, and that was the big break he needed. Later he singed with the major label Columbia Records.
3. Being The First Country Artist to Have and All Girl Backup Band
That’s right. The man that would probably would be fingered as country music’s biggest misogynist had country music’s first female backing band called the Ladysmiths. Though they only lasted a short time too early in Coe’s career for many people to notice, he still deserves the distinction.
“Not only was it an all-girl band, but they were from New Jersey,” David Allan Coe once said in an interview. “Seven years later Porter Wagner [Wagoner] had his TV show, and had an all girl band and that was a big deal. Porter was famous so he got the credit for being the first to use an all-girl Country band. Nobody paid attention when I did it. I wasn’t famous – and it didn’t matter to me.”
Of course, you have to balance out this info with the fact that Coe once also claimed to have as many as seven wives, and once claimed allegiance to the Mormon Church to justify his polygamy. As you can imagine, the Mormons were not happy.
From Michael Bane’s “The Outlaws”
4. Recording “The Ride”
If you’re anything like me, when you first heard this song, and when you realized Coe was singling about Hank Williams, it was one of those singular musical moments that made your spine tingle and the hair on your arms stand on end. Written by Gary Gentry and J.B. Detterline Jr. and released in February of 1983, “The Ride” simply wasn’t just another great David Allan Coe song, it was the one that revitalized his struggling career at the time, and put him back on the mainstream map.
Columbia Records had fitted Coe with legendary Countrypolitan producer Billy Sherrill. The Coe / Sherril collaboration was a success, and along with another hit of the era “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile,” “The Ride” drove David Allan Coe to the top of the country charts. The song made it to #4 on the Billboard Country chart, and spent 19 weeks in the chart.
5. Writing “Take This Job & Shove It”
One of the biggest songs of David Allan Coe’s career, and Johnny Paycheck’s. The #1 hit (the only one of Paycheck’s career) released in October of 1977 created its own colloquial expression and snowclone that is still in practice today. It inspired a 1981 film of the same name and too many popular culture references to count. Coe released his own version of the song on his 1978 record Family Album and an alternative version called “Take This Job And Shove It Too” that included the line, “Paycheck you may be a thing of the past”—a veiled stab at Johnny who Coe felt betrayed him by alluding to the public that he wrote the song.
6. Living In A Cave After IRS Seizure
David Allan Coe once had a house in Key West with other songwriters such as Shel Silverstein and Jimmy Buffett. In fact it was when listening to Silverstein’s off-color comedy songs that Coe was inspired to record his two X-rated albums, Nothing’s Sacred in 1978, and the Underground Album in 1982. Coe had a falling out with Jimmy Buffett when Buffett accused Coe of stealing the melody of his song “Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” for his song “Divers Do It Deeper.” Buffet later said, “I would have sued him, but I didn’t want to give Coe the pleasure of having his name in the paper.”
Coe nonetheless had hard times coming. In 1990 his contract with Columbia Records came to and end, and after a bitter divorce and troubles with the IRS, Coe’s Key West home was seized and he was thrown out on the street. With no place to go, David Alan Coe lived in a cave for several months in Tennessee, or at least that is how the story goes. Some have questioned the validity of Coe’s cave-living claims.
7. Being Criminally Overlooked for Writing & Recording Powerful Love Songs
Whenever you say the name “David Allan Coe,” people immediately think of his hellrasing Outlaw songs, confederate flags and the use of the ‘N’ word, his X-rated albums, prison time, and many other seedy events that have sensationalized his life and country career. But what might be the most underrated part of David Allan Coe’s contributions is his ability to write and record some of the best, most touching love songs the country genre has ever heard. The breadth of David Allan Coe’s songwriting ability, and his ability to perform a heartfelt tune when called upon it is something that even the most hardened David Allan Coe detractors could find beauty in.
Coe’s first big success in country music came as the songwriter for Tanya Tucker’s #1 hit in March of 1974, “Would You Lay Me Down (In A Field Of Stone).” Coe’s own version of the song is also highly regarded by singers and songwriters. His recording of “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile” written by Johnny Cunningham was Coe’s highest-charting single in his career, hitting #2 on the Billboard Country charts, and Coe’s “Jody Like A Melody” rarely leaves a dry eye in the house.
David Allan Coe’s long relationship with producer Billy Sherrill, who was known as one of the founders of the refined Countrypolitan sound, resulted in some beautiful recordings that may not balance out all the bad he’s done in his life, but certainly speak to the wide expanse of Coe’s talent and contributions.
8. Standing Up to Casino Security Guards in Iowa
In June of 2008, David Allan Coe was at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, Iowa with his girlfriend (now wife) during a stopover between shows. The altercation happened after Coe hit the jackpot on a slot machine. His wife stayed with the machine to collect the jackpot, and Coe moved on to another slot to continue playing. When the casino workers came to deliver the jackpot, they told David’s girlfriend that he had to be present because he was the one who pushed the button. When the casino workers found Coe at the other slot machine is when the trouble started. As Coe was trying to give the casino proper ID, a young security guard became combative with Coe. To avoid an altercation Coe began to walk away, but security cornered him, wrestled him to the ground, detained him, and charged him with Disorderly Conduct and other charges.
Bad thing for the security is the entire thing was caught on tape, and completely corroborated David Allan Coe’s side of the story. It clearly shows security unnecessarily wrestling Coe to the ground, and all charges were dropped. Coe blames the incident for why he has to walk with a cane, and still down while performing. He counter sued the casino.
The video of the incident is pretty astounding.
9. Partnering with Pantera for Rebel Meets Rebel
Yes, there’s many partnerships and collaborations in music where two famous artists or bands get together and do something that is usually really exciting on paper, but the results musically are fairly negligible beyond the novelty of the collaboration. Rebel Meets Rebel took it a step further, and has withstood the test of time for many fans of both David Allan Coe and metal band Pantera.
Recorded between 1999 and 2003, and not released until May 2nd, 2006—two years after Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was brutally murdered on stage. This wasn’t David Allan Coe playing metal, or Pantera playing country. This was a true collaboration that mixed influences from both disciplines. Hard-edged and unapologetic, it is mostly a meal for the red meat crowd, but stands above most other country/metal collaborations as one that got it right.
10. Surviving a Horrific Car Crash
If you need any further evidence of just how badass David Allan Coe is, just appreciate that in March of 2013, David Allan Coe was broadsided by a Peterbilt 18-wheeler in Ocala, Florida and live to tell the tale. The impact sent Coe’s 2011 black Suburban all the way into a nearby parking lot, which the semi ended up on its side and wrapped around a cement pole. Coe suffered cracked ribs and bruised kidneys, and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, but was back performing months later. Just looking at the pictures from the accident, it’s a wonder Coe made it out alive. A badass indeed.
BONUS #11 – Recording “You Never Even Call Me By My Name”
Bonus #12 – Being Part of the 1% Outlaw Motorcycle Gang
Badass DAC Moments That Are Probably Not True
Taught Charles Manson How To Play Guitar - Though David Allan Coe claims he taught Charles Manson how to play while they were both in prison together, there’s no evidence to support that the two were in prison together ever, let alone that Coe would have the kind of access to Manson to teach him. Another man Alvin “Creepy” Karpis is given credit by most sources for teaching Manson guitar while in prison.
Killed A Man In Prison / Served Time on Death Row - This has been one of Coe’s most contentious claims; sworn to be true by him, but refuted by journalists, penitentiary workers, and legal experts. According to Coe, while in prison a man tried to rape him, so Coe killed him in self-defense. When a story in Rolling Stone in the 70′s refuted Coe’s claims, he wrote a song in response called, “I’d Like To Kick The Shit Out Of You.”
More in this series:
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Wanda Jackson Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
- 10 Badass Kris Kristofferson Moments
- 10 Badass Alan Jackson Moments
Since the Johnny Cash Museum opened in downtown Nashville in May 2013, it has become one of Music City’s must-see spots and an international destination point for country music fans and Johnny Cash fans alike. Barely a year has passed since its initial opening and the museum is already tackling its first new addition. On August 15th, the museum will unveil its “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit celebrating the legendary Memphis studio that gave rise to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course, The Man in Black himself.
“Johnny Cash began his musical career at Sun Records,” says Johnny Cash Museum Founder Bill Miller. “Sun was the launch pad for several young men whose music would forever impact the world. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny came from similar backgrounds and humble beginnings. Once they walked through the door at the Memphis Recording Service, their lives would never be the same. We are proud to showcase Johnny’s labelmates from this historic period in rock and roll history.”
The Legends of Sun Records exhibit will showcase many artifacts and much information about the original class of Sun Records stars, but one man, and one particular piece of memorabilia might be worth paying a little bit of extra attention to.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland is not a name that is as familiar to music fans as the other big Sun Recordings stars, but his significance to early country and rock & roll cannot be overstated.
W.S. Holland was Johnny Cash’s drummer for 40 years, and is considered by many as the “Father of the Drums.” When he joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1960, the famous “Tennessee Two” officially became the “Tennessee Three,” but it was a fluke the drummer joined the band at all, leading to his now inseparable nickname.
W.S. Holland never intended to be a drummer. He was raised in Bemis, TN and worked for an air conditioning company after high school. He was a big music fan, and would go out after work to see Carl Perkins play with his two brothers at a local bar. Holland used to beat his hands on the side of the upright bass to the rhythm of music, and on a whim the Perkins clan invited Holland on a trip to Sun Records, and told him to borrow a drum set to play. One thing led to another, and W.S. Holland became one of Sun Records’ go-to session drummers.
W.S. Holland was the drummer for the famous “Million Dollar Quartet” session that matched up Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis (he got paid $11.50 for the gig—union scale at the time). He played on many other famous Sun Records recordings, including Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “Ring of Fire”, not as a member of Johnny’s band, but as a session player. Holland also played on many other famous Sun recordings, including “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Later W.S. Holland would take the same drum set used in many of those famous Sun Studios sessions, and they would become the first full drum set ever used on The Grand Ole Opry. Though Bob Wills back in 1945 brought his Texas Playboys to the Ryman, including their full-time drummer, The Opry forbade Bob from playing the drum set on stage. An argument ensued, and eventually The Opry caved and allowed the drummer to play a partial set behind a curtain. It’s said that Bob at one point said, “Move those things out on stage!” and the drums made a quick and controversial appearance, barring Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from the Opry for life. But the set owned by W.S. “Fluke” Holland, and the set that is on display as part of the Johnny Cash Museum’s “Legends of Sun Records” is the first full drum set, and the first officially approved set to ever grace The Grand Ole Opry’s hallowed stage.
The biggest “fluke” occurred for W.S. “Fluke” Holland when he was hired by Johnny Cash to play a quick two week run of shows in New York and Atlantic City. That two weeks lasted 40 years in Johnny Cash’s band, and the rest is history. Later when Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, W.S. “Fluke” was the supergroup’s full-time drummer. “Fluke” also played on Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, played on the Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin albums, and was also the session player for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record.
The quaint, four-piece drum set on display at the Johnny Cash Museum could be considered the most important drum set in this history of country music—and rock and roll music for that matter, or American music in general. Along with all the other important artifacts that make up the “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit, it makes this new museum addition a worthy visit for music fans of all stripes.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland still plays drums and tours today in his W.S. Holland Band.
Photos by Jarrett Gaza
Hal Ketchum had quite the country music career in the 1990′s. Signed with Curb Records, he released ten albums, including his debut Past The Point of Rescue, and went on to sell a total of five million records, chart 15 Top 10 hits, and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1994. But four years later, a diagnosis of acute transverse myelitis (a very similar ailment to multiple sclerosis) sidelined the singer and songwriter, causing him to lose use of the entire left side of his body. Ketchum had to relearn basic tasks, including how to sing and play the guitar again, and recovered enough to continue to record for Curb until 2008 when he retired to his cabin in Wimberely, TX. “I went through some really serious bouts of paralysis, blindness and the fear that goes with all of that. I was in kind of a dark place,” Ketchum says. “I didn’t write, didn’t perform. I was just laying low…”
But the music spirit in Hal Ketchum has surfaced once again, and working with Austin, TX-based label Music Road Records, the 61-year-old singer is set to release his first album in six years called “I’m The Troubadour” on October 7th.
According to Ketchum, the enthusiasm from Jimmy LaFave and Kelcy Warren of Music Road, and his desire to start writing again, is where the inspiration for the new album came from. “I came to the realization that I had gotten to this deep level of depression, and I finally said to myself, ‘I can still do this. I can still write.’ The key for me was getting up every morning and having something real to do. Some days, my hands don’t work as well as they should, I’ll get a little wobbly on occasion, but I just keep going.”
“I wasn’t really planning on doing another album,” Ketchum continues. “The whole Nashville scene is extremely competitive. You’re as good as your last record. People are always showing you spreadsheets on how much money you owe for videos and tour support and everything else. I think there’s a certain level of resentment that comes with that.“
That’s one of the reasons why fans of Ketchum shouldn’t expect his new album to be exclusively country, but a mixture of country, blues, folk, rock, and soul. “I like to say that I’ve been successfully misunderstood for 30 years. I mean, I was a cabinet maker from Gruene, TX. I got a record deal and I had a number one record out of the box, and suddenly I was a ‘country’ singer. The genre served me very well, and I’m really grateful for the opportunities that the country music world brought to me. But creatively, this record was a really beautiful departure for me. It’s really opened me up again. the freedom of working with Music Road Records, without genre restrictions and commercial pressure, has given him new life … I think it’s going to be refreshing for people who haven’t heard me in a while to know that the old man’s still swingin’.”
Ketchum insists he still loves country music and is honored to play it. But I’m The Troubadour will be an exploration of all of his musical influences.
“My mother put a great poem on my wall when I was a little kid called ‘Keep a-Goin’. It went -
Ain’t no use to sit and whine, ’cause the fish ain’t on your line,
bait your hook and keep a-tryin’, keep a-goin’.
“So that’s become my motto,” Ketchum says. “Just keep going.”
George Riddle, a songwriter and musician whose music and influence can be heard throughout the classic country music world, passed away on Saturday night, July 19th after battling with throat Cancer.
Over his long career in country music, George Riddle wrote songs for artists such as George Jones, Ray Charles, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Gilley, Del Reeves, Melba Montgomery, and Margie Singleton among others, and wrote 13 songs for George Jones alone. George Riddle also sang and performed his own songs, recording at various times for United Artists, Musicor, MGM, Starday, Marathon, and Roma Records, releasing seven full albums and multiple singles throughout his career. For 40 years, George Riddle was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, backing up many of the biggest Opry stars. But he might be best known as the very first and original Jones Boy, backing George Jones up in what would later become George’s legendary band. When George Jones first started out, it was just him and George Riddle. And as they say, the rest is history.
George Riddle was born in Marion, Indiana September 1st ,1935, and graduated from Van Buren High School in 1953. He served in the United States Army from 1958 till 1960, then went to Nashville to pursue his dream of becoming a country and western singer. This is where he met George Jones and became one of country music’s marquee sidemen.
Riddle also made appearances on The Johnny Cash Show, The Nashville Network, in the movie Country Music on Broadway, and many other notable stage and television appearances throughout his career. Most recently he hosted a classic country radio show on WCJC 99.3 FM in Indiana every Saturday morning from 6 am till 11 am near his home in Gas City, Indiana.
Despite his accomplishments throughout his career, George Riddle was known as a private person, not desiring the spotlight. In 2011 and 2012, Riddle received R.O.P.E. (Reunion of Professional Entertainers) Awards for his DJ work, as a songwriter, and a Lifetime Achievement Award.
George Riddle will be greatly missed as an important contributor to classic country music.
The below photos are from the George Riddle Facebook page. The first is with George Jones and Patsy Cline. It is believed to be one of the final pictures of Patsy, and was taken the day before her tragic plane crash.
The Metamodern rise of Sturgill Simpson could be classified as meteoric, and his dramatic ascent in the last few months is virtually unparalleled in the modern country music world for an independent artist. Amidst the swelling crowds, the high praise, and far flung accolades, let’s look back at Sturgill Simpson, and take a moment to reflect on how he got here.
2004: The Formation of Sunday Valley
Sturgill Simpson forms a 4-piece band called Sunday Valley in his home state of Kentucky. They wear suits and ties to gigs, and drape a Kentucky flag over the bass drum as stage decoration. Sturgill sports a Stratocaster with a backwards neck. They open shows for fellow Kentucky-based band Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers.
Photo from Matt McDonald
2004 to 2009: Sunday Valley, First Move to Nashville, Move to Utah
In 2005, Sturgill Simpson moves from Kentucky to Nashville for the first time. He stays there for about nine months, but has a hard time fitting in. “I really came, more than anything, to find the old timers that were still around, that I could play bluegrass with and try to learn as properly how that should be done as I could,” Sturgill tells NPR. “I didn’t find a lot of similar-minded folks in town: pop-country was really at saturation at that point, and what is now described as the “hip” Nashville scene wasn’t really there yet. You know, any of those bars in East Nashville that are hotspots, that you can walk into on a Friday or Saturday night — back then there’d be six people in there.”
Feeling out-of-place, Sturgill decides it’s time to get a real job, and moves out to Utah to work for the railroad. He is 28-years-old at the time, and Sunday Valley is mothballed. In Salt Lake City, he works as a train conductor at a switching facility, helping to operate one of the main train arteries between the East and West Coast. “I really did enjoy it. We were outside,” Sturgill says. He does this for a few years, and then his grandfather gets sick, and he’s forced to move back to Kentucky to help take care of his family. Sturgill ends up getting stuck in Kentucky.
Eventually Sturgill meets his future wife and decides to move back out to Utah to work for the railroad again. However he takes a managerial position and it results in misery. “After about a year and a half of that, I was probably just at the most depressed state I’ve ever been in in my life.”
At this point, Sturgill has not played guitar in over 3 years. But at the urging of his wife, he begins to play again.
2010: Move Back to Nashville & Sunday Valley Revitalized
Afraid that he’s going to turn 40 and will have never seriously tried his hand at doing what he loved, Sturgill Simpson moves back to Nashville with the full support of his wife. They sell everything they can, and pack the rest in a Ford Bronco and head east.
Later in 2010, Sturgill Simpson revitalizes the Sunday Valley name and forms a three piece with Gerald Evans on Bass, and Edgar Purdom III on drums. They play more shows with their old Kentucky friends Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and record an album To The Wind And On To Heaven. Sunday Valley is a hard-edged, hard-country, fast and raucous band, like Sturgill’s native bluegrass sound but electrified and on speed.
Sunday Valley & Sturgill Simpson catch the eye of manager Marc Dottore, the manager for Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, and Kathy Mattea.
January 2011: Saving Country Music & Pickathon
Saving Country Music posts a review of Sunday Valley‘s To The Wind And On To Heaven after being tipped off about the band by Blake Judd of Judd Films. SCM givs it “Two Guns Up!” and declares, “Sunday Valley is definitely worth your consideration and raising a blip on your radar, because mark my words, I have a feeling that this will not be the last time you will hear about Sturgill Simpson or this band, from me or others.”
During the same week, Saving Country Music is contacted by promoter Zale Schoenborn of the Pickathon Festival in Portland, OR, looking for recommendations for potential performers for the next season. Sunday Valley does not make the list [Editor's note: because I 'd never seen them perform live at that point], but Zale reads the Sunday Valley review, and is so enraptured, decides to book Sunday Valley anyway. Buoyed around their Pickathon appearance, Sunday Valley books a West Coast tour. The Pickathon booking is later seen as Sturgill Simpson and Sunday Valley’s big break.
August 2011: Sunday Valley Storms Pickathon in Portland, OR
Sunday Valley and Sturgill Simpson play a spectacular show at Pickathon in front of the influential audience and start creating a national buzz. Pokey LaFarge is in the crowd for one of the band’s sets, urging them on.
“I am here to tell you folks, Sunday Valley’s frontman Sturgill Simpson is a singular talent, one of those one-in-a-million folks who is touched by the country music holy spirit, and has the vigor to fully realize his potential, and assert his solely original perspective on American music without fear … Whatever praise, whatever accolades, whatever sway my good name has, I throw it all behind Sunday Valley and Sturgill Simpson 100%. This man deserves to be playing music for a living, and as long as that is not the case, it is a sin of our country.”
April 2012: Sturgill Simpson Walks Away from Sunday Valley Name
Music Fog releases a video of Sunday Valley in January of 2012 for the song “Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean”. The video goes a long way in spreading Sturgill Simpson and Sunday Valley’s name. The video would be the first we’d hear of the new Sturgill Simpson sound, and becomes one of the last official appearances of Sunday Valley. Sturgill Simpson makes an appearance at SXSW in March of 2012 at XSXSW 5, and no longer has drummer Edgar Purdom III in tow. Then on April 27th, he officially announces:
Welp kids,…Lord knows it’s been a long road with a great many tears of joy and sadness and some very hard lessons learned but I know I speak for all four original members of Sunday Valley when I say we gave it everything we had and then some. Out of respect and honor for Billy, Gerald, & Eddie and the sacrifices we all have made for this thing over the years, I could never under any circumstances feel good about continuing my musical journey under the Sunday Valley name.
There are no words I can think of that would possibly express our love and appreciation for you all and your support over the last 8 years…it means more than you could ever know. New band, new sound, new album coming very soon…as they say, the next chapter is always better, that’s why we turn the page.
“To the wind and on to heaven…”
June 2013: The Release of High Top Mountain
On June 13th, Sturgill Simpson releases his first solo album High Top Mountain independently through Thirty Tigers. The album earns critical praise from country and roots media, and Sturgill Simpson is no longer a secret of the independent roots world. The New York Times says it’s “full of finely drawn songs both sad and tough.”
Sturgill Simpson told Saving Country Music about the album, “This is a much more honest representation of who I am, at least right now. I have the attention span of a 4-year-old. But I love all music, especially old soul and R&B, and traditional country. And I try to incorporate all those elements. This band is just where I am right now.”
August 2013: Playing the Grand Ole Opry
Sturgill Simpson is signed by the prestigious Paradigm Talent Agency for booking. Soon Simpson is opening shows for Dwight Yoakam and Charlie Robison.
Strugill makes his debut on the most hallowed stage in country music at the Grand Ole Opry on August, 23rd, 2013, as an invite from Marty Stuart. In a statement about the honor Sturgill said in part,
I credit my 82 yr. old Grandfather Dood Fraley more than anyone on Earth for, among many other things, my musical education. He’s the greatest man I’ve ever known…Period.
He told me, “That’s it bud..that’s the biggest honor in Country music..that’s what you’ve been working so hard for all these years whether you knew it or not. If you never sing or record another note, you ain’t gotta prove nothing else to nobody after that. Don’t worry about what they’re doing now, just go do it your way and I’ll be right there with ya.”
May 2014: The Release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
on May 6th, Sturgill performs on the BBC’s Later … with Jools Holland.
On May 13th, Sturgill Simpson releases his second album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and the rout is on. All the touring, accolades, and critical acclaim see the independent country artist debut at at #11 on the Top Country Albums chart, and #59 on the all-genre Billboard 200.
NPR debuts Metamodern Sounds as part of their “First Listen” series, and The New York Times says, “Sturgill Simpson is a top-notch miserablist, from the lyrics that pick at scabs to his defeated vocal tone, leaky even when he’s singing at full power. His second album, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” (High Top Mountain), is a triumph of exhaustion, one of the most jolting country albums in recent memory, and one that achieves majesty with just the barest of parts.”
Many other periodicals and websites give the album top critical praise, and his music begins to get the attention of the mainstream country music industry. Sturgill Simpson has arrived.
June 2014: Tour Dates with Zac Brown Announced
Sturgill Simpson is booked to open for Zac Brown on select arena and amphitheater tour dates. It is revealed later that Zac Brown personally requested Sturgill to join the tour last minute.
Sturgill’s wife gives birth to their first child.
Photo from Sturgill Simpson Facebook Page
July 2014: Plays David Letterman
on July 14th, Sturgill Simpson joins the list of independent country and roots artists David Letterman has allowed on his stage to make their network television debut. “Welp, I can retire now,” Sturgill says.
Let’s hope he doesn’t.
October 2014: Plays The Tonight Show w/ Jimmy Fallon
The bayou cries out in mourning, but the music will live on.
Jimmy C. Newman, the ‘C’ standing for “Cajun,” known as one of country music’s most passionate champions of the Cajun influence and nicknamed “The Alligator Man,” passed away on Saturday, June 21st due to Cancer. He was 86-years-old.
A Big Mamou, Louisiana native, Jimmy grew up on the cowboy sounds of Gene Autry, as well as Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, and the Cajun music of the surrounding countryside. He was bilingual, and after finishing six years of schooling, dropped out to work on a farm before becoming part of the war workforce as a welder’s assistant where he met a man named J.D. Miller who got him into the music business. After first making it on The Louisiana Hayride, Newmann later became a fixture of The Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years, joining originally in 1956, a couple of years after landing his first big hit, “Cry, Cry Darling”. Newman was signed to Dot Records after being championed by Fred Rose, and had five Top 10 records in a row before landing his biggest hit in 1957, “A Fallen Star”, making it all the way to #2 on the charts, and crossing over to Billboard’s Hot 100.
Though Newman would have many more hits within the commercially-popular “Nashville Sound” of the time like “You’re Makin’ A Fool Out of Me”, “Grin And Bear It”, “A Lovely Work of Art’, “D.J. For A Day” which was the first hit written by Tom T. Hall, and arguably his last big hit, 1965′s “Artificial Rose”, starting in the early 60′s, Jimmy C. Newman started moving towards the Cajun sound that eventually would become the signature of his career, feeling like it was a more true expression of his roots. 1962′s “Alligator Man” wasn’t a huge hit at the time, but it would become Newman’s theme song, and a standard of his Opry sets later in life.
Forming his “Cajun Country” band in the early 60′s, Newman began to instill the fiddle and accordion sound into his music more and more, releasing songs like “Bayou Talk” and “Louisiana Saturday Night”. Though his commercial prominence waned, he became a favorite with Cajun country fans, and an influential voice for country music’s Cajun lineage through his regular appearances in the Opry rotation.
An inductee of the Cajun Hall of Fame, The Cajun Music Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, Jimmy C. Newman’s influence and contributions cannot be overstated. In 2006, he joined the very distinct club of performers who have marked 50 years at the Grand Ole Opry, and his 1991 album Alligator Man was nominated for a Grammy Award. His song “Cry, Cary Darling” went on to be covered by Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, and Ronnie Milsap. He also was the man that gave up stage time as an invitation to Dolly Parton so she could make her Grand Ole Opry debut.
Jimmy C. Newman lived on a large ranch near Murfreesboro, TN, just south of Nashville, and was married to Mae Newman for over 60 years. He made his final appearance just less than two weeks ago on June 13th during the Friday Night Opry.
Jimmy C. Newman, “The Alligator Man”, is now sitting on the banks of the great bayou in the sky.
For the last few weeks, folks in Nashville, television viewers, and the actors that comprise the cast of ABC’s hour long drama about Music City were wringing their hands and waiting for word if Nashville would be renewed for a third season. Producers had been playing hardball with the real Nashville, trying to wring out as many tax breaks and other incentives as possible to keep the production in Tennessee.
Talk at one point had the show moving to Texas or Los Angeles to continue production, if the show continued at all. As the week drew on and the announcements came down for other shows being renewed or cancelled on ABC and other networks, the fate of Nashville remained in limbo. But finally late Friday night, right after midnight Eastern Time, at tweet from ABC Music Lounge confirmed, “It’s official! @Nashville_ABC renewed for Season 3!!!”
The renewal is also for a full 22 episode season. There was talk of a shorter production cycle being one of the bargaining chips in negotiations.
Nashville, which is partially funded by the owners of The Grand Ole Opry, has been touted as being huge boom for tourism in Music City, while also becoming a forum to showcase worthy songs and talent that doesn’t normally make it on the radio. The show often portrays the ruthlessness of Music Row’s major labels and executives, and the struggles of many of its artists in sometimes stark authenticity, and in story lines that could be ripped right out of the newspaper.
The show has also been criticized for its over-dramatic nature, and sometimes being too harsh in its portrayals of the tribulations of country music, while some Nashville natives would rather not have the additional spotlight shined on their city that is already struggling to deal with rapid growth and an expanding economy.
Nonetheless, now Season 3 is a reality, and this news also pushes the series one step closer to the financially lucrative prospect of syndication. It also helps keep country music right at the forefront of capturing and holding the American consciousness as now one of the biggest, and most popular of the American music genres.
When it comes to the preservation of the history and sound of country music, you can make the case there is nobody who does it better and with more passion and dedication than Marty Stuart. Tireless and true to his convictions, from his music, to his archive of memorabilia, to his presence on television and the Grand Ole Opry stage, and to some of the thankless things he does well out of the public eye, Marty Stuart embodies everything behind the idea of Saving Country Music, and is a badass of the genre if there ever was one.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
1. Paying His Dues with Johnny Cash & Lester Flatt
Unlike many of the country music prima donnas who’ve set up shop in country music recently, Marty Stuart comes from the school that believes you have to pay your dues in country music before it’s your turn in the spotlight. Marty Stuart started playing professionally as a sideman in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band in the early 70′s at the tender age of 14 under the tutelage of legendary mandolin player Roland White. Marty stayed with the band until 1978 when it split up because of Lester’s failing health.
After spending a couple of years working with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson, Marty joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1980, and stayed there for half a decade as both a sideman and a studio musician. Stuart also married Cash’s daughter Cindy in 1983. The two divorced five years later after Marty left Cash’s band to pursue a solo career.
2. Keeping One of the Biggest Archives of Country Music Memorabilia
Marty’s vast collection of country music memorabilia is one of the biggest in country music. It has been featured at the Tennessee State Museum, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and pieces are regularly loaned to the Country Music Hall of Fame for exhibits.
“I went to the first Hard Rock and I saw The Beatles, The Stones, Otis Redding, The Who, all their stuff on the wall. And in my mind I went, ‘Well that’s just as important if it’s Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams, George Jones, and who on.’ And so when I came back to America, I made it a mission. I mean it became my whole focus at that time. Get a record deal, start a band, make them look cool, and get all of the country music artifacts you possibly can and preserve them, lock them down, because they’re getting away fast.
“Everything was changing in country music. The look of it, the sound of it, and this stuff was just a throwaway…The ultimate mission is not just to preserve this stuff, protect it, promote it, save it, but to get the music into the hands and hearts of young people that are coming through and [saying), “Well I want to do that, but they tell me I have to be like so and so.” But we’ve already got one of those. Be who you are, at any cost.” (read full story)
3. Inviting Cool Artists Onto The Grand Ole Opry
Playing the Grand Ole Opry stage is one of the biggest thrills and highest honors any artist within the country music realm can be bestowed, but it is not an easy one achieve. One way to grace the stage is to be invited up by a standing member to play during their set, and that is how young, up-and-coming stars like Sturgill Simpson, to one of the oldest living country stars still around, the 90-year-old Don Juan Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose both made their first appearances on the hallowed stage of the storied institution. Marty was also the man who officially invited Old Crow Medicine Show recently to become The Opry’s newest members; the first traditional -leaning band to be invited in the last half decade.
4. Hummingbyrd & The Clarence White Guitar
As explained above, Marty Stuart has many pieces of country music memorabilia, but none of them may be as prized as his guitar affectionately called Hummingbyrd. The 1965 Fender Telecaster was originally owned by famous guitarist Clarence White—a studio musician, member of The Kentucky Colonels, and most-famously, the guitarist for The Byrds (hence the “Y” in the name).
Hummingbyrd is no ordinary guitar. It was the original prototype for what is know as a “B-Bender” guitar—a custom job invented by Clarence White and Byrd drummer Gene Parsons, who happened to also be a machinist. The point of the custom job is to be able to mimic the moaning sounds of a steel guitar by bending the B-string up a whole tone through a series of levers activated by pushing on the guitar’s neck, body, or bridge. When Clarence White passed away, his wife sold the legendary guitar to Marty Stuart, who uses it as his primary instrument.
Included on Marty’s 2010 album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions is a instrumental called “Hummingbyrd” where Marty Stuart puts on a clinic on how to use this unique instrument. The song went onto win the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Hummingbyrd shows both Marty Stuart’s passion for the preservation of country music’s history, and his prowess as a guitar player matched by few in the genre.
5. Standing Up To CBS / Columbia For Dropping Johnny Cash
A running theme in these 10 Badass Moments has been the firing of Johnny Cash from CBS Records in 1985. Merle Haggard mouthed off to CBS Executive Rick Blackburn about the firing, saying, “You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”
When Marty Stuart left Johnny Cash’s band, he signed to Columbia (previously CBS), and in 1988 recorded his second album for the label called Let There Be Country. However Columbia refused to release it. Though some have surmised it was because Marty’s first self-titled Columbia album didn’t sell well, in James L. Dickerson’s 2005 book Mojo Triangle, he explains Columbia didn’t release the album because Marty Stuart had a heated exchange with a Columbia record executive about the Johnny Cash firing. Columbia shelved the album in retribution, and Marty eventually left the label without recording another album for them. Marty then signed to MCA where he had his greatest commercial success, and amidst this success, Columbia decided to finally release Let There Be Country in August of 1992.
6. Hosting The Marty Stuart Show
Patterning itself around the classic country music variety shows of the past like The Porter Wagoner Show, Flatt & Scruggs, and Hee Haw, The Marty Stuart Show is one of the last bastions for true, classic country music on television. Carried by RFD-TV, this weekly show features Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives, his wife Connie Smith, and just about the coolest variety of country music artists you can see on TV—artists from the new generation like Justin Townes Earle, Brandy Clark, Sturgill Simpson, Hank3, and The Quebe Sisters, to older artists like Don Maddox, Del McCoury, and Stonewall Jackson, and to artists in between like Jim Lauderdale, and Corb Lund. If they’re good, they appear on The Marty Stuart Show, and after five seasons, it has become its own country music institution, and an important distinction for the artists invited to play the show.
7. Playing with Lester Flatt on the Porter Wagoner Show at 14
Are you kidding me? That’s Marty Stuart folks, playing mandolin and singing!
8. Releasing Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota
Similar to his mentor and hero Johnny Cash who released what was arguably the first country music concept album with his tribute to the American Indian called Bitter Tears in 1964, Marty Stuart released a concept album also in tribute to the American Indian called Badlands: Ballads of the Laokota in 2005. Recorded with his backing band The Fabulous Superlatives, it focused on the struggle of Native Americans, and was entirely written by Stuart except for one song, “Big Foot,” written by Johnny Cash. It was also recorded at the Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, TN, with John Carter Cash as co-producer.
But this album wasn’t just Marty patterning himself after Johnny Cash. Stuart has spent much time in the Dakotas learning about the Lakota Sioux, including studying at the Oglala Lakota College. For Marty, the poor treatment of Native Americans is a very real issue.
9. Marrying Connie Smith
Why would a handsome young Marty Stuart marry a woman 16 years his senior? Well first off, have you seen Connie Smith? Aside from how good time and country music has been to her, she is bona-fide country music royalty and one of the most familiar faces of the Grand Ole Opry. But this isn’t some celebrity sham marriage, the matrimony speaks to Marty’s undying appeal for all things country music and the love between the two country stars is deep. Together, they’re a classic country dynamic duo that is hard to stop (and I have my suspicion at night they dress up as superheroes and do battle with Music Row’s most evil villains).
10. This Quote:
“Today the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee, is play country music.” –Marty Stuart
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr. falls in line with the other country artists covered in Saving Country Music “10 Badass Moments” series by being a rough and tumble character both on and off the stage, but also in showing great character by giving back and using his famous name for good.
Here’s 10 Badass Moments from Shelton Hank Williams III, or Hank3.
1. Playing Charity Concerts for Homes For Our Troops
When you heard that The Marines had been called to the Hank3 concert at The Meridian in Houston, TX in March of 2010, you could only expect the worst. After all, the son of Hank has been known to throw some pretty rowdy shows. But the occasion that called for a military dispatch including a Marine Color Guard was not an unruly crowd. It was meant to honor Hank3 for donating all the proceeds from the concert to the charity Homes For Our Troops that provides housing to wounded veterans. And this wouldn’t be the last time. Hank3 has also done other charity shows for Homes For Our Troops, as well as animal rescue organizations (see below).
Pretty cool moment before The Meridian show:
2. Playing For 5 Straight Hours at The Valarium in Knoxville
Hank3 is known for his long, sometimes 3-hour+ shows with only a 5 to 10 minute break between his country and his punk/metal lineups, but this particular set was one for the record books.
Exactly what happened at The Valarium in Knoxville, TN on July 15th, 2009 that stimulated Hank3′s marathon, 5-hour set depends on who you talk to. But when Hank’s manager, assistant manager, and five other people were arrested for “disorderly conduct,” Hank3 felt the best way to protest the injustice was by playing one of the longest sets in the history of country music. Without any break, Hank3 held forth with his “Damn Band” staring at 10:00 PM Wednesday night, and the music didn’t stop until almost 3 AM Thursday morning. When Hank3 ran out of material with his band, he switched to an acoustic show and kept on going.
The show went so long, an after party at the adjacent Cider House featuring the local band J.C. and the Dirty Smokers didn’t start until 2 AM, and nobody was there. “Basically, I said, ‘Since we’re already set up and already have a stage, we might as well work on a couple of originals,” Dirty Smokers frontman J.C. Haun said at the time. “So we ended up having a rehearsal, basically.”
And as if Hank3 hadn’t already done enough, he called Valarium owner Gary Mitchell after the show to apologize for not playing the Assjack metal portion of the show. “He felt like he’d stiffed his hardcore fans,” Mitchell told the Metro Pulse.
3. Playing Charity Concerts for Animal Rescue
For years Hank3 has been playing charity concerts to benefit animal shelters in his home of middle Tennessee. “We are thrilled that Hank3 would support our mission,” says Kat Hitchcock, who has worked with numerous animal shelters in the area. “He doesn’t just support it, he lives it. He is a genuine advocate for animal welfare. We are extremely fortunate. We can’t thank him enough.”
The 4th show Hank3 played to benefit Happy Tails Humane in Franklin, TN was on August 3rd, 2012 at the Marathon Music Works in Nashville, and raised a whopping $18,000 for the organization. A DVD was also made of the event, and you can watch the entire footage of the concert below:
4. Taking In Stray / Abandoned Animals
Beyond throwing benefit concerts over the years for animal rescue, Hank3 has been known to pull his tour bus over to check on stray animals, and take them in if the proper owner can’t be found, or use his famous name to help find the furry friends a new home. Hank3 goes beyond the call for animals, and over the years it has become his pet issue (arf arf). Check out this PSA he made a couple of years back.
5. The “Fuck Curb” Campaign
Hank3′s entire 14-year career with Curb Records was filled with turmoil. The first major conflict arose over an album called This Ain’t Country. Hank3 turned it into Curb, just to have Mike Curb deem it was not fit for release. Curb shelved the album, and then released it after Shelton left the label and after he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation for the number of releases. It was a way for Curb to squeeze another album out of Hank3′s contract.
Hank3′s 3rd album Thrown Out of the Bar was slated to be released in late 2004, but Curb refused to issue it. This prompted Hank3 to start a “Fuck Curb” campaign that included T-Shirts, stickers, and the words “Fuck Curb” written prominently on Hank3′s guitar. Hank3 also took Curb to court, and like so many other artists with Mike Curb grievances, the court found in favor of Hank3 and made Curb issue the album that was later reworked into the album Straight to Hell. Curb also delayed the release of Hank3′s 4th album Damn Right, Rebel Proud for undetermined reasons, and since Hank had signed a non-defamation clause to his contract to get Straight to Hell released, he couldn’t even speak out against Curb’s actions.
At the time Hank3 was seen as a foul-mouthed yob. But since then, public issues arising with Curb Records and many of its artists, especially Tim McGraw, shows that Hank3 was ahead of his time, and that his salty language was warranted.
6. Including Three Songs by Wayne “The Train” Hancock On His First Record
On Hank3′s first solo record Risin’ Outlaw from 1999, he included 3 songs from one of his early mentors and heroes, Texas singer-songwriter and the King of Juke Joint Swing, Wayne “The Train” Hancock. By including “87 Southbound,” “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs,” and “Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone,” it introduced Wayne Hancock to a whole new generation, and a whole new segment of fans. It also would help Wayne with what songwriters call “mailbox money”—royalties from song credits—for years to come.
7. Calling Out Kid Rock
In his song “Not Everybody Likes Us” from the album Straight to Hell, Hank3 calls out Kid Rock, saying:And 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 goddamn you’re fuckin’ dumb.
The anger was stimulated when Hank3′s father, Hank William Jr., began to refer to Kid Rock as his “Rebel Son” around 2002. At the time, Kid Rock and Hank Jr. were collaborating together on music. The “Rebel Son” talk stimulated rumors that Kid Rock truly was another son of Hank Jr., and Hank3 got tired of answering the rumors. It all boiled over one night at a show in Kid Rock’s home of Detroit when Kid Rock and his fling at the time Pamela Anderson tried to board Hank3′s bus to patch things up between Hank3 and Hank Jr.
Hank3 told Blender Magazine in 2006:
…he kept trying to come on the bus—you know, him and Pam [Anderson] and all that shit —and I said, “Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,” and then he finally gets his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father and I’m like, “All right, you just crossed the line motherfucker.” And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: “No, he’s not my fucking brother…
8. Recording The Album Straight to Hell DIY Style
Considered Hank3′s opus, Straight to Hell released in February of 2006 was recorded on a $400 consumer-grade Korg D-1600 machine in Hank3′s steel guitar player’s house. It was the first true DIY recording made outside of the conventional studio setting to ever be released through a country music major label and the Country Music Association. It was also the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker.
The point was not just for Hank3 to gain control of his own music, but to inspire a generation of new artists to do the same thing, to see that they didn’t need to sign big deals and have lots of money to make and release music. And that’s exactly what it did.
9. Standing Up to the Grand Ole Opry
For years Hank3 has been trying to get The Grand Ole Opry to show respects to his grandfather by reinstating him into the institution he loved so dearly. Hank Williams was kicked out of the Opry for drunkenness and missing rehearsals with the idea that once he sobered up, he could be reinstated. Unfortunately Hank Williams never got that opportunity. He died on New Years Day, 1953 as an ostracized member of the institution he helped bring to prominence. All Hank3 is asking is a symbolic gesture be made to the legacy of Hank Williams by reinstating him to the Grand Ole Opry, also known as Reinstate Hank. The issue has also come to symbolize the fight to keep the purity of The Grand Ole Opry institution alive.
10. Shaking Every Hand And Signing Every Album After Shows
This may not sound like some altruistic task for some artists whose shows stretch to top 75 attendees, but when you’re constantly selling out concerts with hundreds of tickets sold, and every one of those people wants to meet you, this simple gesture has become one of Hank3 signature symbols of showing how he’s willing to go the extra mile for his fans, sometimes patiently spending many hours after two and three hour performances to shake hands, sign autographs, and take pictures.
BONUS – 11. Playing Bass for Phil Anselmo’s Superjoint Ritual
Showing that the show didn’t need to be all about him, while Hank3 was fighting with Curb Records and trying to get his album This Ain’t Country released, he took his friend Phil Anselmo—the former lead singer of Pantera—up on the offer to join his band Superjoint Ritual on bass. Between 2002 and 2004, Hank3 could be seen banging his head on stage as a side man in concerts across the country. When Superjoint Ritual shut down around 2004 and Hank3 returned to the country world and released the album Straight to Hell, he showed legions of punk and heavy metal fans the virtues of traditional country music and created many country music converts.
In 2013, there is only one music artist who can say they’re officially banned for life from country music’s most storied institution: the Grand Ole Opry. No, it’s not David Allan Coe, Hank Williams III, or some other hothead, firebrand artist quick to call out the Opry and other mainstream country music institutions at any perceived slight. No, the offending party is none other than alt-country luminary Neko Case.
This may not be completely surprising seeing how Neko got her start in music as the drummer for a punk band, and has regularly collaborated with artists and bands outside of the country fold like The New Pornographers. But like many of the artists making up the alt-country movement in the mid 90′s, it can be argued that Neko had more respect for the roots of country music, and for country music institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, than many of country music’s artists did at the time, and certainly do today.
In October of 1998 when Neko’s first album The Virginian was blowing up in the alt-country realm, the Las Vegas Sun interviewed the young songstress, where she professed her philosophy behind country music, and her love for the Grand Ole Opry, in an article appropriately titled “Neko Case’s Quest for the Grand Ole Opry.”
I don’t play “alternative country” music; I just play country music. I want to have the same outlets, the same goals that all my heroes in country/western music have had. I want to play the Grand Old Opry in my grandmother’s lifetime, you know what I mean? I want to be played on mainstream radio. I’m not willing to change my music to get there faster, but I’ll fight for it anyway. I don’t think anyone gives a shit about country radio. It’s bullshit. It just makes me mad that (country radio) is using the term “country music,” when it doesn’t belong to them.
I think now is the time for change in country music; hopefully it’ll change for the better. It really burns that all the bands that inspired me were part of a national country music culture that was really admirable and fairly diverse at one time. I want to have the same avenues open to me. It’s like having this beautiful old building in your neighborhood and coming back to find that they’ve torn it down and built a Wal-Mart in its place.
Neko Case would get close to having her Grand Ole Opry wish granted when she was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry Plaza Party just outside the Grand Ole Opry House in the summer of 2001. Playing the Plaza Party was seen as a precursor to being able to play the Opry proper, and is the place where many Opry mainstays like Old Crow Medicine Show and Dale Watson got their Opry starts. With the respect Neko Case had for the Opry, she was excited for the opportunity.
“People who have gone to the Opry or are on their way to the Opry come by and check you out while they’re coming and going,” Neko explained to the Denver Westword that summer. “You get to go backstage at the Opry, which is the really cool part.”
Everything seemed to be going well for Neko and her Opry dream until one afternoon performance in July at the Plaza Party that was especially sweltering. The stage the Opry had set up for their Plaza performers was black, and right beside it was a barbecue pit that was pouring heat out onto the performers. With dreams of making it onto the Opry’s main stage, Neko Case persevered through the heat during her show, but it began to get unbearable and she started to wilt.
Neko Case started making requests for water from surrounding staff, but they went unfulfilled and she began to get dizzy. As Case began suffering from the effects odf heat stroke, she asked the staff if she could take a short break, and was told no. The situation became desperate for Neko, who was on the verge of passing out or suffering from some serious, long-term damage if she couldn’t resolve her rising body temperature. So in a panic, Neko removed her shirt to help cool off. As you can imagine, the family-friendly Opry did not look favorably upon this.
Exacerbating the shirt removal was the weight of Neko Case’s past in music and her statements about country, seeming to imply to the Opry and others that this wasn’t just an instance of heat exhaustion, but that Neko was making some symbolic statement by bearing her womanhood in public (though she still had a bra on beneath). As the stories swirled about Neko’s shirtless set, it was taken by some as an obscene gesture to cause a sensational outcry, or to stand against the direction of country music, or some other counterculture statement.
But that wasn’t the case. I wasn’t trying to be sexy or rebellious — I was just getting heatstroke up there,” Neko later explained to Rolling Stone. “I didn’t do anything obscene. I wouldn’t want to see me with my shirt off, either.” But the explanation didn’t do much good, and the incident resulted in a lifetime ban from the Grand Ole Opry—the institution Neko cherished so.
Neko has since come to peace with her fate. “I was pretty depressed for a couple of months after that happened, but I got over it,” Neko told The Guardian. Neko later memorialized the incident by naming her 2002 album Blacklisted.
She still hopes to return to the Opry some day and fulfill her dream. “They’ll forgive me one day,” she told Fairfax Digital. “I still love them.”
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Neko Case just released a new album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
Are you forlorn about what has happened to country music? Then look no further than Amber Digby.
Amber Digby’s gift is being able to hand select classic country songs from the past that never became full-on classics, but should have. And then with her band Midnight Flyer, Amber makes these songs classics by the power of her pure country voice. It’s part album making, part archeology dig, and then she adds a few newer offerings and self-penned songs to the mix for good measure. Helping her along the way is an A-list cast of contributors that includes duet partners Vince Gill and Randy Lindley, steel guitar player Lloyd Green, and piano playing Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins, just to name a few.
It takes a certain amount of courage to make an album like The World You’re Living In–so unapologetically steeped in the traditions of country music, specifically many of the traditions that set Texas country apart from other classic sounds originating further east or west. Making an album that is so blind to trends or trade industry desires, without a care if 98.1 will show courtesy to it in their rotation is a sign of character from Amber and co-producer Justin Trevino. Besides, she’ll get plenty of love from the Texas country radio stations that matter. Amber Digby’s country music pedigree runs deep, instilling in her the inability to compromise. Her mother, father, and many other members of her immediate family were professional musicians, and an album like this only gets made when a sincere passion for the roots of country is ever-present.
The way to pull off making a successful classic country album these days is to make sure to include the right amount of spice. Amber Digby and company do this and show wisdom on The World You’re Living In in both the song selection and the style of approach for each track. They start with a breadth of material that goes from country Outlaw Johnny Paycheck’s “It Won’t Be Long (And I’ll Be Hating You)” all the way to the classic country pop of Lynn Anderson’s “How Can I Unlove You.” Throughout is a cohesion built from an insistence to build out from the fiddle/steel guitar/true country sound. Amber’s not afraid to mix it up though, like on her rendition of the Jack Greene/Connie Smith number “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)” where the Wah-Wah pedal makes an appearance and revives the late 70′s Jerry Reed funky country feel, keeping the album fresh and delivering one of the work’s funnest tracks.
It’s hard to gloss over the fact that Vince Gill thinks so highly of Amber Digby that he appears on this album in a duet of The Warren Brothers’ “The One I Can’t Live Without.” The two met backstage at The Grand Ole Opry when Amber introduced herself as a fawning fan, and was floored to find out Vince was a big fan of her. They ended up writing “One More Thing I’d Wished I’d Said” together– a track that appears on this album and Gill’s Guitar Slinger.
As with all classic country albums, you must preface it by saying that it’s probably not for everyone. But the world we’re living in would sound a lot better if The World You’re Living In was the industry standard for what country music was supposed to be.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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The brushup revolving around Blake Shelton’s recent comments about country music’s classic country fans has mostly died down. Blake apologized, at least to Ray Price and other artists, while excluding angry fans, and later clarifying further by saying, “Still sad that Ray thought I was talking about artists. I was only referring to people who don’t like the new direction country is going.”
This story grew many tentacles, but one worth following a little deeper is Blake Shelton and his current membership at The Grand Ole Opry. Opry historian Byron Fay of Fayfare’s Opry Blog, called for Blake Shelton’s outright firing after his inflammatory comments. This may seem like a reactionary, bellicose opinion, but Byron Fay raised an excellent point. By not making even one appearance at the Opry in 2012, Blake Shelton is in unquestionable violation of the Opry’s long-standing membership rules.
According to the bylaws of The Opry, membership not only has to be earned, but maintained. In April of 1963, The Opry implemented a rule stating that members must make at least 26 appearances on the show per year to keep their membership active. Over the years, the amount of required appearances per year has dropped, though the appearance rule is still in effect. In 1964, Opry management dropped the amount of required performances to 20. Then in 2000, they dropped the requirement to 12.
The Opry does its best to be flexible with their appearance rules for superstar members. For example, if you are a high profile member and make an appearance on a Friday or Saturday, they give you 3 performance credits. But members are still expected to do at least a minimum number of shows each year or risk losing membership.
Blake Shelton was invited to become a member of The Opry on September 29th of 2010, and was officially inducted on October 23rd. 6 months later Blake Shelton became a judge for the reality TV singing contest The Voice on NBC, taped in Los Angeles. The TV show has drawn Blake’s ire a number of times by insisting on running multiple seasons of the contest in the same calendar year. At one point, both Season 3 and Season 4 were being taped simultaneously, while Blake had just released two albums. Furthermore, unlike many Opry members, Blake lives in Oklahoma, not Nashville, making his ability to fulfill his Opry obligations even less likely.
It is understandable that for some Opry members who’ve paid their dues to the institution for many years, performance rules could be more flexible. But Blake never created a tenure with the Opry.
The problem with the Opry’s performance rule is the same problem with The Grand Ole Opry’s current practices for inviting new members. The last three inductees to the Grand Ole Opry were Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, and Darius Rucker–all high-profile, big name members who have touring and label requirements outside of the their Opry obligations. Keith Urban, who was inducted into The Opry in April of 2012, just took the position as an American Idol judge.
Meanwhile traditional artists like Elizabeth Cook are the ones making the most Opry appearances annually, including filling many last-minute slots for big-name cancellations. Yet these Nashville-based artists that have fulfilled The Opry’s membership requirements many times over seem nowhere close to induction because of the Opry’s exclusive focus on only inducting members with superstar names recently.
In August of 1952, The Grand Ole Opry fired Hank Williams for missing practices and showing up drunk. We all know The Opry is not going to fire Blake Shelton, but if Opry membership or the institution itself is going to have any meaning moving forward, they must either adhere to their rules, reform them, or reform the membership process. Otherwise, it may be The Opry that is ignored, not just their loosely-defined and ill-followed rules.
Marty Stuart is the man. More so than any other modern country music artist, Marty does everything right, from preserving the roots of country and helping to keep the traditions alive, to putting out fresh, fun, and relevant music, to taking up the cause of the oldtimers and the up-and-comers alike to keep the country music community both honorable and vibrant. You name it, Marty has done it, and done it many times away from the cameras and country writers, simply from a passion for country music, and from the kindness of his heart.
Marty Stuart breathes country music, and helps preserve it and pay it forward almost as if it was an involuntary action. He doesn’t know how to do anything different. The man is tireless, touring many months out of the year, and spending the majority of his time when home in Nashville on his Marty Stuart Show or playing the Grand Ole Opry, or other endeavors that many times seem to be about promotion someone other than himself. The amount of talent he has churning through the Marty Stuart Show set alone is boggling, and it is about the only place left in American popular media where you can see what real country entertainment once was.
You know, I’ve heard some folks say that Marty is “hokey,” probably partly in response to his RFD-TV Show. I’ve heard others remark that he’s just plain weird, maybe from his flamboyant hairdo or dress. What’s funny though is when it comes to Marty Stuart’s music, all of that stuff seems so superfluous. His recent output is responsible for some of the hardest-charging guitar music that exists in country right now, walking right up near the line of rock & roll, but cleverly knowing where not to cross it. The magic Marty is making with “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan and the double-barreled Telecaster twang-out sound is something that will go down in the annals of country music as one of its coolest eras.
Marty Stuart also has excellent ballads and beautiful instrumentals and traditionals that include some of the tightest musicianship and harmonies you will find, mostly the fault of his excellent band The Fabulous Superlatives. From gospel to Outlaw, Marty Stuart can work within all of country music’s colors, and practice the art of playing and living authentic country music that he preaches. As Marty says, “The most Outlaw thing you can do in Nashville right now is play country music.”
One thing that many folks don’t know about Marty Stuart is that he owns a vast archive of country music memorabilia, and not from a personal desire to horde expensive valuables, but a sincere desire to preserve these artifacts for future generations of country fandom.
I’ve heard many stories about Marty’s generosity from other artists over the years, but the one that sticks with me most was from 90-year-old Don Maddox, the last surviving member of the Maddox Brothers & Rose. When Don flew out from the West Coast to be a part of the opening of the Bakersfield Sound exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Marty acted as Don Maddox’s personal tour guide in Nashville, taking him to see the Maddox Brothers costumes Marty gobbled up years ago for safe keeping (some of which were given to the Hall of Fame for the Bakersfield exhibit), inviting Don to play with him on The Grand Ole Opry, and putting him on The Marty Stuart Show.
Marty’s generosity stretches out to all sectors of real country music, to up-and-coming acts like The Quebe Sisters and Justin Townes Earle that he’s invited on his TV show, to Hank Williams III who appears on a duet on Marty’s latest album Nashville Vol. 1 – Tear The Woodpile Down.
And in the end, Marty Stuart’s music is the reason he deserves this honor the most. The reason Marty is in a position to do all the great things that he does is because he is so revered by his peers, by country music’s historic institutions, and by the overall country music community.
Simply put, Marty Stuart is saving country music.
One of the most remarkable music events of 2012 must be how Nashville and some of its biggest, most bloated and notorious corporate citizens did the inexplicable: they began to tackle the issue of the massive talent glut in American roots music. As big record labels continue to tighten their ships, and radio companies like Clear Channel continue to buy up radio stations all around the country and nationalize programming, the ability for America’s major media companies to offer true choices in content continues to diminish. And when it comes to radio, the issue is likely effecting rural areas and country listeners disproportionately.
T Bone Burnett, renown music producer and the music director for ABC’s new television drama Nashville spelled out the problem in October, right before the Nashville series started.
Because the bottleneck of commercial country radio is so profound, there’s a wealth of incredible material laying around town. This is a big surprise to me, how many extraordinary songs we’ve been able to find. An industrial amount of bad songs, to be sure, but a surprising amount of really good, handcrafted, personal songs that people are willing to share with us because there’s no longer a platform for them to share their music at all. I hope that we become the platform for the people who are writing from their whole hearts.
And that is exactly what the Nashville show has become, pushing independent music from artists as varying as The Civil Wars, Lindi Ortega, and Shovels & Rope. In a recent article in The Tennessean, musician and writer Peter Cooper asked about Nashville, “How come the country music in a soap opera, sung by actors, is better than what I hear on mainstream country radio?”
When talking about Nashville, I often have to explain that I don’t “like” the show, and don’t even recommend people watch it. But that’s different from understanding the importance and power of an outlet like Nashville, and how its opening up tremendous opportunities for some independent artists.
And who owns ABC? Disney does, the largest media conglomerate in the world. Who is helping fund Nashville? Ryman Hospitality (previously Gaylord Entertainment), which owns The Grand Ole Opry and has been notorious for ignoring aging and emerging talent over the last few years.
And not to be outdone, another subsidiary of a massive media conglomerate based in Nashville, Viacom’s CMT, has figured out how to get on the independent music bandwagon by launching their new outlet with an emphasis on the legendary and the unknown, CMT Edge. 6 months ago, it would have been unfathomable to see an artist like Rachel Brooke featured on anything related to CMT. Now CMT Edge is digging deep, and doing what they can to shine a bigger light on music from the Americana world to aging greats.
Sony ATV, Nashville’s biggest music publisher, just announced a new program called Nashville Guitars and Bars meant to showcase budding talent coming up in the singer/songwriter ranks.
All of a sudden the big boys in the media business are playing a part in re-populating the country and roots music farm system that for years has been anemic and ignored. Why?
Because as I and others have asserted for years, there is commercial viability in independent music. No, of course it is not as financially lucrative as artists like Tim McGraw or Toby Keith, but that doesn’t mean that companies cannot create revenue by either helping to manufacture this music, or promote it or cover it. And as time goes on and the ranks of listeners disenfranchised with corporate music and its inherent lack of choice continues to grow, the trends favor independent music becoming even more popular in the coming years.
There is money in independent music, no matter how much independent fans might want to grovel over its monetization. Fans and artists have a right to be speculative of the intentions of some of these Nashville institutions wanting a piece of the action, seeing how their closed doors and derelict attitudes towards artistic expression and creative freedom is part of the reason an independent movement in music exists in the first place.
For years people have thought of Nashville as the home of corporate music, and that’s still true. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a rapidly-growing independent scene on Nashville’s east side and in other spots around the city. The word from many of the folks on the inside looking out is that Nashville has long surpassed Austin as the epicenter for independent roots music, despite Music City still being the home of Music Row and many other trappings of the mainstream music business.
I was as speculative as anyone about the intentions and viability of outlets like ABC’s Nashville or CMT Edge, and will probably continue to keep one suspicious eye turned in their direction. But for now, they appear to be working from a sincere approach of broadening musical perspectives and choices.
I’ve always said that all that independent, up-and-coming artists need is a chance. You put the good stuff right next to the stuff people are force fed through Clear Channel radio and they will begin to make better choices. Finally here in 2012, those choices are being made available through mainstream outlets, and the glut of viable artists and credible content pushing at the edges of Nashville like a balloon ready to burst is finally being alleviated by new outlets channeling real music to hungry ears. Without question more needs to be done, but this is a good start.
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