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- Willie Watson on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Fader Interviews Lucinda Williams
- Chuck Mead on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Apple Reportedly In Talks with Majors for Cheaper Music
- Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White Release New Album "Hearts Like Ours"
- If You Missed It: Lucinda Williams on Fallon 9-30
- SXSW Probably Isn't Going Anywhere But Big Changes Loom
- Revisiting Cowboy Jack Clement, Country Music's Jester and King
- Audiobook Review: Tom T. Hall "The Storyteller's Nashville"
- Mac Wiseman Featured in The Wall St Journal
- Live Nation Moving Off of Music Row
- After SiriusXM Success, The Turtles Take on Pandora
- American Songwriter reviews new Sons of Bill album
- Cool Music Photos from New "Still Moving" Picture Book
- The Telegraph "Sturgill Simpson: Space Cowboy"
- Jambands Reviews Cory Branan's "No Hit Wonder"
- Zoe Muth at WAMU's Bluegrass Country
- A night in the life of Austin City Limits ringleader Terry Lickona
- Review: Sturgill Simpson At Leaf Cafe, Liverpool, UK
- Can the people Nashville hopes to attract afford to move to Nashville?
72 hours have passed since Toby Keith delivered a drunken performance at the Klipsch Music Center just outside of Indianapolis on Saturday Night, and angry fans, some of which spent upwards of $300 for tickets, have still yet to receive any apologies or explanation. Though the complicit country music media has completely avoided this story, many major local news outlets in Indianapolis and elsewhere, including CBS WISH Channel 8, WTHR Channel 13, The Indianapolis Star, and KFOR-TV in Toby’s home state of Oklahoma, have been talking about the Toby Keith concert debacle today. Live Nation and the The Klipsch Music Center continue to refuse to comment on the situation, and there still has been no official word from Toby Keith himself.
Jeff Wagner of CBS WISH in Indianapolis did however speak with Toby Keith’s publicist, but not much explanation was given, and there certainly wasn’t an apology. “She told me she’s seen hundreds of his shows, and that he’s never had too much to drink. But she admitted, she didn’t attend this specific concert,” Jeff Wagner says in his report (see below). Later in the report Wagner says that Keith’s publicist told him, “‘All concert goers are entitled to their opinion,’ and that she’s seen a large amount of positive reviews to go along with the negative ones across social media.”Â
But many others tell a much different story, including Ashley Mayhew, who was one of the concert goers who tweeted out that Live Nation, the Klipsh Music Center, and Toby Keith should at least acknowledge what happened after the concert. “A lot of people have said ‘Well he sings about bars, he sings about drinking, and that’s what he represents.’ But I kind of feel like Jimmy Buffett sings about drinking and partying, but he doesn’t show up to his shows wasted away in Margaritaville … People make mistakes, but this was an entire concert of slurred words, eyes closed, it was just a disappointment.”
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If Toby Keith would simply say something like, “Sorry folks, had a little too much to drink Saturday night. I apologize if I ruined anyone’s good time and I promise next time I roll through town I’ll make it up to you,” then this issue would go away. But with Live Nation and Toby Keith refusing to address this situation, fans are feeling even more disrespected than they were on Saturday night. As concert attendee Ashley Mayhew said, “We all make mistakes.” But if Toby Keith refuses to acknowledge his mistakes, and his publicist is saying, “he’s never had too much to drink“—clearly an incorrect assessment of Saturday night—what confidence do fans have that this won’t happen again at another concert, or that Keith’s state-of-mind and drinking habits are in order?
The attendees to Toby Keith’s Klipsch Music Center deserve an apology, if not a refund. And ignoring the problem at this point has only made it worse.
Many of the attendees to Toby Keith’s Saturday night (9-13) concert at the Klipsch Music Center near Indianapolis are up in arms over Toby Keith’s performance after Keith showed up drunk and stumbled through his set. Some families spent upwards of $300 dollars on tickets and drove from many hours away just to see Toby Keith slur his words and forget others throughout the concert in what one parent called an “embarrassing” performance.
Numerous fans reached out to Live Nation and the Klipsch Music Center on Monday in an attempt to get refunds to no avail. Neither Live Nation, the Klipsch Music Center, nor Toby Keith’s management have addressed, or even acknowledged the issue. Saving Country Music also made calls to both the appropriate parties at the Klipsch Music Center, which is owned and operated by Live Nation, and to TKO Management which manages Toby Keith, and neither entity returned calls.
Surprisingly, only one video from the 24,000-capacity venue has surfaced in the 48-hours since the concert, but this one piece of evidence does not put Toby Keith in a very flattering light. Singing his 9/11-inspired mega hit “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue,” Toby Keith can be clearly heard heavily slurring his words and at times trailing off, until at the end of the line, “So we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our heads,” he descends into an inaudible garble, inspiring the videographer to exclaim, “Oh God!”.
As a courtesy, Saving Country Music has isolated the audio in question in the below video, so inquiring minds can listen and determine just how drunk Toby may or many not have been that night.
Saturday Night (9-13) Toby Keith made a tour stop at the Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana just outside of Indianapolis on his “Shut Up & Hold On” tour presented by Ford F-Series Trucks, and according to many of the concert goers, Toby was too drunk to perform, put on a terrible show, and now some fans are demanding their money back. A cavalcade of attendees took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about Toby Keith forgetting words, and generally stumbling through his performance.
“Awful show last night so drunk it was pathetic,” concert goer John Collins tweeted out. “When your 11 year old daughter asks whats wrong with Toby !! #embarrassing.” Kari Woehler said, “Can’t remember words. I’m a nurse. What if came to work drunk?” Caitlin Gill says, “This is disappointing. Paid a lot for these tickets and he is too drunk to sing.”
There’s been no public acknowledgement from either the Toby Keith camp, the Klipsch Music Center, or the promoter Live Nation about Toby Keith’s drunken state, but numerous fans have indicated they are reaching out to Live Nation requesting refunds.
This is not the first time the Ford Truck Man has thrown a bad show because of too many adult beverages. Some believe Toby Keith was too drunk when he opened Rodeo Houston in 2013.
â Ashley Mayhew (@AmberStarfish) September 15, 2014
I won’t ever go to a Toby Keith concert again. Not gonna pay to watch a drunk guy sing. â Ashley Hughes (@AshleyHughes96) September 14, 2014
99% sure Toby Keith was drunk tonight….not the best concert
â Zac Coons (@zaccoons) September 14, 2014
Wow was Toby Keith drunk tonight !! â John Collins (@JohnCollins911) September 14, 2014
So Toby Keith was terrible…he was so drunk u couldn’t understand the words..
â CaSEy RoTE (@casey_mikel) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith, not worth it. Was drunk on stage, sounded terrible. â Charlie Duffy (@Charlie_Duffy32) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith’s so drunk rn đ
â Kennedy Trendelman (@k_e_n_98) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith is so drunk, he forgot the lines to my favorite song. đđ˘ â Katelyn (@ML4everKatie) September 14, 2014
â Emily Schafer (@emilyelizabeths) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith is more drunk than the crowd right now â Jake Harper (@Harpertown) September 14, 2014
Attention world: @TobyKeithMusic puts on a horrible show. Don’t bother showing up if the performer is too drunk to know lyrics.
â Sammi Coppedge (@SammiCoppedge) September 14, 2014
@TobyKeithMusic very disappointed in Indy show. TK too stoned. Can’t remember words. I’m a nurse. What if came to work drunk?
â Kari Woehler (@hoosiercubby) September 14, 2014
@TobyKeithMusic this is disappointing. Paid a lot for these tickets and he is too drunk to sing.
â Caitlin Gill (@CaitGillMPH) September 14, 2014
As one of the primary members of country music’s “Class of ’89″ that’s regularly given credit for veering country music into a too commercial direction, Alan Jackson seems to never be given enough credit for being one of the genre’s staunch traditionalists that has stood up for the roots and the legends of country music arguably more than any other mainstream star, and just as much (if not more) than The Outlaws of the 70′s did. When you sit back and reflect on his now legendary career that has seen the sale of over 80 million records and seen Alan amass dozens of industry awards, there is no question Alan Jackson deserves the distinction of being an ultimate country music badass.
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
1. Starting His Career in the TNN Mailroom
Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings got their start in music as DJ’s. Kris Kristofferson started out as a janitor in the Columbia studios. For those with music in their blood, they will do whatever it takes to get their foot in the door of the music business. For Alan Jackson, it was getting a job in the mailroom of The Nashville Network’s offices.
Jackson was born in Newnan, Georgia, and grew up in a house built out of his grandfather’s old tool shed. Jackson’s mom still lives in the house to this day. Jackson had been married to his high school sweetheart Denise for 6 years before deciding to move to Nashville to pursue music full time. Once they hit Music City, Jackson needed to do something to support the household, and TNN was hiring. He later met Glen Campbell and the rest is history.
2. Wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt on the 1994 ACM Awards
Today this would be no big deal. In fact it would probably be considered an upgrade from some of the ridiculous regalia many modern-day country stars get duded up in on award shows. But in 1994, country music’s prime time presentations were still very much black tie affairs. And here comes Alan Jackson walking out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It would pale in comparison to what would happen next on the show (see below), but Alan bucking the black tie dress code was scandalous on its own, and was probably meant as its own protest against the ACM’s stuffy atmosphere and a presentation that showed little reverence to the roots of the music.
Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, âHere you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?â
Jacksonâs response was, âWell, I love Hank, and a fanâŚI get a lot of gifts on the road playing, and a fan gave me this shirt, and I just saw it in the closet before I came out here this weekend and I grabbed it and said, âIâm gonna wear it for my song,â you know, âGone Country.â Hankâs country.â
3. Protesting The Backing Track on the 1994 ACM Awards
The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jacksonâs oyster. Held at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on May 3rd, Alan walked away that night with the Top Male Vocalist award, and co-hosted the event with Reba McEntire. But when it came to performing what would be his upcoming #1 single and one of the signature songs of the era âGone Countryâ, Alan Jackson couldnât sit right with the charade most country award shows pull on their audience.
Before the show, producers told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded rhythm section track, which Jackson clearly felt was tantamount to lying to both his fans and the audience. So instead of playing along with the charade, Jackson tipped off the audience to the subterfuge by telling his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play without sticks. So as the performance transpires and everything sounds perfect, there is Alan Jacksonâs drummer, swinging his arms like heâs playing the drums, but with no sticks in his hand.
Trust the ACM’s never asked Alan Jackson to play to a backing track again. And this wouldn’t be the last time Alan Jackson would pull a fast one on award show producers….
4. The “Pop A Top / Choices” George Jones CMA Awards Protest
Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices”. George, feeling that he wasnât a âbaby actâ as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song âPop A Topâ, cut his own song short, and launched into Georgeâs âChoices”.
ââWe were all so nervous,â Alan Jackson later recalled. âThe guitarist had this solo in the middle of âPop a Topâ, and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start âChoicesâ. â
As you can see in the video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jonesâ comeback hit.
5. Releasing Under The Influences Tribute Album
During the height of Alan Jackson’s commercial success, he decided to do something rarely seen in modern day country from a superstar: he released an album made entirely of classic country covers. Including two songs from Johnny Paycheck, a cover of Merle Haggard’s “My Own Kind Of Hat”, and Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Blues Man”, Jackson’s label heads must have thought he was crazy. The album was Jackson’s way of pushing back against the pop-ification of country that was becoming a hot topic in the genre at the time.
What was the result?
It was a big success. Though it can be argued that an album of more original music might have done better, Under The Influences went Platinum, and included two hit singles. Nat Stuckey’s “Pop A Top” ended up at #6 on Billboards Country Songs chart, and Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” first made famous by Don Williams went all the way to #1. Alan Jackson proved that the classic country sound was still relevant, and commercially viable if given a chance.
6. Recording and Writing “3 Minute Positive Not Too Country Up Tempo Love Song”
Not since Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs & Waltzes”, and arguably no other song since has protested pop country’s propensity for commercialization and shallowness as well as this loquaciously-titled song written by Alan Jackson himself for his 2000 release When Somebody Loves You.
7. Recording “Murder On Music Row” with George Strait
Arguably one of the most important country music protest songs in the history of the genre, “Murder On Music Row” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell became a big success when Alan Jackson joined up with George Strait to release the song in 2000. The duo first performed the song in 1999 at the CMA Awards, and the next year the performance won the CMA for “Vocal Event of the Year.” Then the following year when it was released on George Strait’s Latest Greatest Straitest Hits album, it was awarded the CMA for “Song of the Year.” That’s right, a song talking about how country music had been murdered on Music Row walked away with the genre’s highest distinction for a song.
Even though the song was never released as a single, unsolicited airplay still saw the song chart on Billboard at #38. At George Strait’s final concert in June of 2014, the duo performed the song again to the largest crowd to ever see an indoor live music event
8. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”
In stark contrast to the inflammatory nature of Toby Keith’s post-911 Ăźber hit “Courtesy Of The Red, White, & Blue”, Alan Jackson did his best to humanize and come to peace with the tragedy of 9-11 through song, and it resulted in both his most critical and commercial success of his career. Written by Jackson himself, when he first played it for label executives, there was complete silence in the room for a full minute after it stopped. Jackson was scheduled to perform his current #1 song “Where I Come From” at the 2001 CMA awards in November, but mere days before the presentation, he decided to play “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” instead. The four CMA heads were not happy about this decision until Jackson’s tour manager Nancy Russell played the song for them. They were all crying by the time the song ended.
After Jackson played the song on the CMA Awards, demand for it skyrocketed. The song was so new, his label hadn’t officially released it as a single yet, but stations already with a copy started playing it, and the song shot to #25 on the Billboard Country Songs chart almost immediately. By the next week it was at #12, and by the end of the year, it was #1 where it stayed for five weeks. It also charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #28.
Jackson’s label couldn’t make the song a commercial single fast enough to meet demand, so they instead decided to move up the release date of his album Drive from May of 2002 to January 15th. When the album was released, it went to #1 on both Billboard’s country and all-genre charts, and stayed there for four weeks off the strength of the song. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” eventually won both the “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year” from both the CMA and ACM Awards, as well as the Grammy for “Best Country Song.” It also helped propel Alan Jackson to be awarded both “Male Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” by the CMA Awards in both 2002 and 2003.
Jackson said about the song, “I think it was Hank Williams who said, ‘God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.’ That’s the way I felt with this song.”
9. Being Nominated For The Most CMA’s Ever In One Year
Bolstered by his song “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, Alan Jackson received a total of ten CMA nominations in 2002—the most in CMA history. Jackson won five of them.
- 2002 Album of the Year – Drive (Won)
- 2002 Male Vocalist of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Entertainer of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Vocal Event of the YearÂ – “Designated Drinker” w/ George Strait (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
10. Keeping Virtually The Same Band & Producer Throughout His Entire Career
Every single one of Alan Jackson’s 15 major label album releases has been produced by Keith Stegall. Even when Jackson switched labels from Arista, Stegall stayed on board.
Jackson has also kept virtually the same band the entire time, aside from using a few bluegrass ringers for The Bluegrass Album. The loyalty Alan Jackson shows in his people, and his people’s loyalty in him, is both a sign of integrity and success.
- Monty AllenÂ â acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
- Scott ConeyÂ â acoustic guitar, tic tac bass, banjo
- Robbie FlintÂ â steel guitar
- Danny GroahÂ â lead guitar
- Ryan Joseph – fiddle, harmony vocals
- Bruce RutherfordÂ â drums
- Joey SchmidtÂ â keyboards
- Roger WillsÂ â bass guitar
More in this series:
“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking.”
This is the quote that has been attributed to Waylon Jennings that you are likely to see in much greater frequency now that Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. For some, it is the totality of their argument against Garth. Forget all his music, past and future, whatever merits his music might have beyond the flashy stage show, however much the test of time has validated his music or not. To tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of people, the totality of their Garth hatred, the alpha and omega of their anti-Garth argument, rests on this quote. And if you don’t believe me, just mention Garth’s name in the right (or wrong) company, it it will come flying out at you unsolicited.
The problem is there’s no verifiable records of Waylon ever saying it. And if he did ever say it, that he is the originator of the quote. But just like the urban myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to legally change their name to KFC because the birds they use are so genetically altered they can’t be classified as chickens, if you parrot something enough, people take it as fact.
If I had a hunch, not based on fact or research whatsoever, I would say that at some point Waylon Jennings probably did utter those words about Garth, and they probably made it out to the greater world through his son Shooter Jennings. But I’ve also heard from some who say that Poodie Locke—Willie Nelson’s long-time stage manager and one prone to such humor—was the first to say it. Maybe Waylon picked it up there. But I can’t verify that Poodie Locke said it either. There are records of the “_____ did for ____ what pantyhose did for finger fucking” phrase being used for other purposes way before Garth Brooks had even released his first album, so is it really fair to attribute the analogy to anyone?
When you start to try and find the origination point of the quote, and any factual information on if Waylon truly said it or coined it, you start finding a tremendous amount of fiction. The simple fact is the quote is so juicy, and many people just want it to be real so badly, they’re willing to look the other way and proffer it up for human consumption regardless of the truth.
The first record of the quote being used goes back to of all places, Willie Nelson’s 70th Birthday Party in 2003, and from of all people, actor Ethan Hawke. In April of 2009, Ethan Hawke penned a feature on Kris Kristofferson for Rolling Stone. In the feature, Ethan Hawke recounts a story from 2003 where Kris Kristofferson and Toby Keith get into a verbal argument, and Kristofferson says the Waylon quote in response to Toby Keith’s demand, âNone of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.â
Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:
âUp from the basement came one of country musicâs brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing Americaâs enemies back into the Stone Age.
âHappy birthday,â the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came âNone of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.â
âWhat the fuck did you just say to me?â Kris growled, stepping forward.
âYou heard me,â the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
âDonât turn your back to me, boy,â Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
âYou ever worn your countryâs uniform?â Kris asked rhetorically.
âDonât âWhat?â me, boy! You heard the question. You just donât like the answer.â He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. âI asked, âHave you ever served your country?â The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another manâs life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!â I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. âYou donât know what the hell you are talking about!â
âWhatever,â the young Star muttered.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, âDonât say a word.â Then his eyes found me. âYou know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?â he whispered.
I shook my head.
âTheyâre doinâ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckinâ.â
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Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ‘em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.
In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: âI have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willieâs birthday party â least of all to Toby Keith, (if thatâs who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”
As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.
But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.
Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.
Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?
This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,
“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.”Â Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.
Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didnât Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.
I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.
Because of Garthâs massive success, thereâs a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.
Itâs a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those peopleâs success excuses our meanness.
Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece.Â In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.
Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,
Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I donât know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We donât really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?
Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.
Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.
Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …
The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …
My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.
When you live by the bit, you die by the bit. And Jerrod Niemann has just been bitten in the ass by a “Donkey.”
I remember when Trace Adkins released a song called “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” in late 2010. Adkins it can be argued is the King of modern day country music bit songs. He took “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” to the top of the country music charts in 2005, and it put him on the country music map. “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” didn’t fare as well however. At the behest of Adkins himself, the song was released as a single. “I said, âLetâs just throw a hand grenade in the room right off the get-go.â”Â And it blew up in his face. A video was made for the song featuring puppets getting it on in a barn while farm animals watched. People were not impressed, and the song flopped. Eventually Trace was forced to admit, “I guess I went to that well one too many times.”
Jerrod Niemann was very much a middling country music star looking for his niche when he decided to release country music’s first outright EDM song “Drink To That All Night” in October of 2013. For a while it looked like the song might flop too. Maybe it was a little too fey, even for the wide berth country music is cutting these days. But with strong backing from his label and a moderately-successful video, “Drink To That All Night” eventually reached #1 on the Country Airplay chart on April 26th of this year. Niemann had taken a big gamble to be one step ahead of the competition, and that gamble had paid off for him. All of a sudden he was a trend setter, and when it was announced that a remix of the song had been made with Pitbull and a remix video was upcoming, it appeared like “Drink To That All Night” could become the “Cruise” of the summer of 2014: rising slowly, presenting a false fade, and then coming back strong on the back of a remix with a popular rapper.
A few days after the solstice however, and “Drink To That All Night” can’t be found anywhere, despite the release of the Pitbull remix, and the rumored remix video still in the offing. Part of the reason is because in lieu of continuing to push “Drink To That All Night” exclusively, Niemann’s label decided to double down on Jerrod’s new direction and release the ridiculous bit song “Donkey.” Like “Drink To That All Night”, the song has a very metro vibe, pseudo rap lyrics, and a ridiculous premise. But hey, it is a brave new world in country music. If “Drink To That All Night” can reach #1, why couldn’t “Donkey”?
But just like other candidates for country music’s worst song ever like Jason Aldean’s “1994″, Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah”, and the aforementioned “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”, Niemann and “Donkey” went too far. Even before “Donkey” was released to radio on May 19th, some radio programming gurus were sounding off. “I think we are already at a tipping point regarding ‘Bro Country’ and this song doesn’t help either way; it doesn’t advance Country music,” said Scott Husky of the influential Rusty Walker Programming Consultants. “My fear is that we have brought some new folks into the format lately with the appeal of newer music, this song might just point out why those folks didn’t listen to Country before. It will re-ignite the stereotype.”
Adam Jeffries, the Program Director at KJUG said to All Access, “I thought ‘Drink To That All Night’ was right on the line, but ‘Donkey’ is over it as far as being too rappy.”
Not according to Jerrod Niemann though. When talking to Rolling Stone Country, Niemann said, “If rap had never existed, nobody would say anything [about today's rap-influenced country] because these songs already exist in our past and are classics. People are just looking at it in the wrong way,” Niemann said, alluding to spoken word songs such as “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “A Boy Named Sue”. “The people who are getting real upset maybe just don’t know as much about country music as they think.”
Huh. Maybe its Jerrod Niemann who needs the history lesson. As Saving Country Music once pointed out, Spoken Word is Not Rap: “Making the case that spoken word and rapping in music are the same thing is an insult to the artistic integrity and creativity of both spoken word and rap artists, and to the intelligence of anyone who that case is being made to.”
Nonetheless, “Donkey” still had its champions, apologists, and willful perpetrators in country radio, but early on when you looked at the amount of “adds” the song was getting on radio, it did not paint a very rosy picture for the song. “Donkey” was virtually dead on arrival despite a strong label backing, and this week the song went from #44 to #48 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
Gimmick songs and comedy have always been part of the overall country music formula, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. But there is a point where the consumer’s intelligence is insulted, whether it’s by releasing a stupid song, or by misleading them that rap and spoken word are the same thing and telling them they’re stupid for thinking otherwise. As successful as some bit songs have been, like Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” for example, they arguably have also become many artist’s swan song. The defeat of “Donkey” is definitely a win for all things right and good in country music, but it could also be a much bigger defeat for Jerrod Niemann, and a lesson to other artists that even in this seemingly “anything goes” environment in country music at the moment, apparently there still are some limits and standards.
…that includes Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Thompson Square? Ugh…
Not since the second installment of the Waylon – The Music Inside series was released with the names of Colt Ford and Justin Moore making their way on the track list have we had such a quizzical collection of artists for a tribute album. As cool as it is to see any attention paid to Merle these days from the mainstream establishment, and to see Merle’s much-deserving song Ben Haggard make the cut of contributors, hearing Luke Bryan covering “Pancho & Lefty” (and is that really a Merle song anyway?) or Dustin Lynch taking time from singing about tractor sex to offer his take on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is not what’s going to get your average Merle fan’s motor running.
The Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard compilation out April 1st (no fooling) is being put together by Broken Bow Records, and of course, just like many of these tributes recently, it’s mostly a showcase of label talent with a “tribute” as the backdrop. Jason Aldean, Kristy Lee Cook, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Randy Houser, Parmalee, and Thompson Square all reside on Broken Bow and bow in on the track list, most with two contributions.
And if you were hoping that maybe they would approach this thing with the Merle spirit, just listen to what Luke Bryan has to say about his veryÂ “Mumford & Sons” take on “Pancho & Lefty”: “The original had a Spanish-Mexican flair. We took a real different approach with it …. something with some edge that moves along pretty good. It’s an interesting take.”
Something else interesting: They begged Garth Brooks to allow them to use his cover of “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” from his recent blockbuster Blame It All On My Roots box set. But just like the box set, you can only get the song if you buy the tribute from Wal-Mart.
Complicating the love-hate relationship a true Merle fan might have with this compilation, the ACM Awards being held April 6th are planning to bestow Merle Haggard with a Crystal Milestone Award as part of the ACM festivities, with this tribute as the centerpiece. Once again, it’s great to see the ACM’s or anyone in the mainstream acknowledge Merle (even if it’s half a decade after Taylor Swift was given the same Crystal Milestone Award), but you wonder how much of this is just a platform for Broken Bow to display their own talent.
Luckily if you’re looking for Merle Haggard tributes with not as many question marks swirling around them, there’s been a few of great ones released recently. Suzy Bogguss released Lucky last month: a 12-song tribute to The Hag. And Vince Gill with Paul Franklin paid tribute to Merle & Buck Owens last year with Bakersfield.
Track list for Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard:
- Misery and Gin, Randy Houser
- Footlights, Joe Nichols
- Going Where the Lonely Go, Jason Aldean
- Today I Started Loving You Again, Kristy Lee Cook
- Carolyn, Toby Keith
- Pancho and Lefty, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley
- Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, Garth Brooks (Walmart edition only)
- You Take Me for Granted, Thompson Square
- Mama Tried, Ben Haggard
- That’s the Way Love Goes, Dustin Lynch
- Make Up and Faded Blue Jeans, Jake Owen
- I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, James Wesley
- Workin’ Man Blues, Parmalee
- Are the Good Times Really Over, Jason Aldean
- Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room, Thompson Square
- I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink, Dustin Lynch
- The Fightin’ Side of Me, James Wesley
- My Favorite Memory, Joe Nichols
- Ramblin’ Fever, Randy Houser
- Sing Me Back Home, Ben Haggard
You wouldn’t traditionally think of Oklahoma as a proving ground for cowpunk. As the home to some of the wealthiest names country music can boast like Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, and Mr. & Mrs. Blake Shelton, all sharing the same dirt with many of the founding members and freshest names in the Red Dirt/ Texas country scene like Jason Boland and the Turnpike Troubadours, it’s hard to see where there would be the space for a bunch of loud-playing, punk-inspired hillbillies to get a word in edgewise.
But then again, Red Eye Gravy is not your prototypical cowpunk band. Sure, their sound in places builds out from a high-energy, hard country mindset with the train beat being slapped out in the background, but many of Red Eye Gravy’s songs veer toward the traditional side of country and stay there, while others show they type of depth of songwriting and composition usually reserved for the Americana tag. In the end what you get with Red Eye Gravy is a little bit of all the good stuff and in just the right measure, similar to the homemade concoction that constitutes the band’s name, famous for combining country ham drippings and coffee to smother your favorite Southern food in comfort.
Though I wouldn’t go far as to characterize Red Eye Gravy’s new album Dust Bowl Hangover as conceptualized, there’s certainly a thread and a message throughout this project, very much inspired by the band’s Oklahoma surroundings and the history thereof, painting a very ominous and bleak picture for the plight of the poor man from the dusty plains, both of yesterday and today. Destitution and heartbreak are the theme of Dust Bowl Hangover, however the music itself is a very enjoyable experience, with great melodies, catchy hooks, smart and engaging arrangements, and a remarkable amount of spice and variety in the instrumentation to really elevate this album to something much higher than the band’s humble, undiscovered status.
There’s a surprise around nearly every corner of Dust Bowl Hangover. “Hard Livin’ (Comes Easy To Me)” is one of the best country music songs I’ve heard all year so far. The subdued artistry and songwriting efforts of songs like “Take Me Back” and “Pistol” counterbalance the balls-out attitude of cowpunk rockers like “I Wanna Go Home” and “Swingin’ From A Rope.” “Never Thought It Could Be” taps into an excellent melody while a unexpected, muted trumpet takes it to the next level of taste and artistry. Then the very next song “Oklahoma Girls” is an offbeat, foul-mouthed hillbilly elbow swinger featuring some awfully impressive Oklahoma yodeling very few could pull off with such authenticity and skill.
The greatest virtue of Dust Bowl Hangover is that if I was trying to lure an Americana listener into this album, I could pick out a couple of songs that would immediately speak to them. Same could be said for the cowpunk/hellbilly crowd, or for the folks whose hankering is for Texas country. Some of the heavy language here and there, or the stark variety might turn some people off or make Dust Bowl Hangover one to be picked through instead of enjoyed cover to cover, but there truly is something here for everyone, and in multiple servings. The 16 songs may have been a little too much (though the first and last tracks serve as an intro and outtro), and maybe a weaker song like “Give Down The Country” that somewhat failed to meet its objective could have been left on the sidelines and the album condensed down to be even more potent. But I fail to find the passion for many gripes about this effort, and Dust Bowl Hangover comes highly recommended.
Two Guns Up.
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Red Eye Gravy is featured on the latest episode of the “Old Soul Radio Show”.
The Season of Discontent in country music continues with yet another big name country music personality lending his voice to decrying the wayward trajectory of the genre. But this time it’s not a performing artist, it is Scott Borchetta, the label owner of Big Machine Records, affectionately known at Saving Country Music as the Country Music Anti-Christ, and arguably the most powerful man in the country music business.
Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine label is the home of Taylor Swift, Rascall Flatts, Tim McGraw, Brantley Gilbert, and most importantly in 2013, Florida Georgia Line, whose song “Cruise” shattered all manner of records in 2013, including becoming the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music. However as Saving Country Music contributor Deb Bose pointed out in August, the record is virtually meaningless because of how it was achieved, and because it was bolstered by a remix with rapper Nelly. NPR’s Neda Ulaby also pointed this out recently in a piece entitled, “How A Hip-Hop Remix Helped Make ‘Cruise’ The Year’s Biggest Country Hit” (listen below).
In the piece, Scott Borchetta is asked to comment on what some are calling the “bro-country” phenomenon, and Scott Borchetta, just like many of his artist contemporaries, states that he believes country music has gone too far with all the references to alcohol and tailgates, and needs to get back to music with more substance.
“Everybody in Nashville must be drinking 24-7. We’re a bunch of drunks down here,” Borchetta jokes to NPR, but then turns serious. “There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc.”
But what Borchetta says next is the most intriguing portion of his comments. “So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”
This is something that would be easy for anyone else to say, but few like Borchetta actually have the power to task writers and artists to do anything. Sure, Borchetta may just be paying lip service to what he believes the NPR crowd wants to hear. In October Saving Country Music pointed out that Borchetta was personally responsible for Justin Moore’s sophomoric song “I’d Want It To Be Yours,” and this isn’t the first time that someone has called out country music’s wayward trajectory in 2013 while also being personally responsible for it. But here at the end of 2013, everywhere you look there is criticism being levied at country music’s beer and tailgate songs, and a smart and savvy businessman like Borchetta must see that the trend is not sustainable, begging the question if the tide has turned for country truck songs.
Borchetta is actually not the first label executive to speak out about country’s recent flight from substance. Though he’s known mostly as a performer, Toby Keith is the owner of the Show Dog Universal label and helped start Big Machine with Scott Borchetta before the two labels split. Keith had some critical comments about both hip-hop in country and beer/tailgate songs himself in October, saying,
You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, âIs that what we gotta do now to have a hit?â I donât know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?âŚYou start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and itâs like, âNaw, man, there ainât no mud on that tire. That ainât about a Budweiser can. That ainât about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ainât about smoking a joint by the haystack. Thatâs about somebody dying and shit.ââ
A video of punk rock frontman turned public speaker, comedian, and actor Henry Rollins penning a letter to Toby Keith has been making the rounds lately, likely stimulated by the political site aattp.org positing it on their human interest page a few days ago. The video features Henry undressing Toby Keith’s oafish approach to entertainment, and the damaging effects the message of his music could have on the psyche and behavior of his consumers.
The video nothing new though; it was uploaded to YouTube in late June, and actually originates from a 2006-2007 episode of The Henry Rollins Show on the Independent Film Channel, of which the “Letters From Henry” segment was a staple of. However it doesn’t make the letter any less poignant, or Henry’s approach any less intelligent, or the information any less topical, except for the specific song and album that Rollins references in the letter.
Keith actually responded to the open letter in 2009 when he told Country Weekly,
Well I happened to be [watching TV] one night and I come upon this show called The Henry Rollins Show on one of the small cable networks. I just happened to click on it to see what he was doing…and [he] critiques my song âGet Drunk and Be Somebodyâ and in the middle of it this guy, whoâs supposed to be a no-nonsense, stand-up kind of guy, goes, âHey, Iâm not asking for an ass-whipping here . . . â Talk about a hypocrite! I see those kinds of things on a daily basis. You just sit back and scratch your head. I will not come out of the box on somebody, especially that I donât know, and critique their music. Thatâs not right and I wonât do it. We donât bring a bunch of hate to the table.â
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Dear Mr. Keith,
I must confess. I have never written to an icon such as yourself. I’m not trying to be funny. You are most certainly aware of your popularity, targeted as it is. Mainly for the blue of collar, and the red of neck. I can’t see NYU hipsters going out of their way to load your music into their iPods. I saw you interviewed on television a few months ago where you discussed the title of your recent album at the time, “White Trash With Money.” As I recall, you told the host that you overheard a conversation where you and your family were characterized as such. I’m sure these people are aware of their faux pas now, and I’m happy you were able to turn the insult into something positive.
I also recall you saying that a single off the album was called “Get Drunk and Be Somebody.” The title stuck with me so I looked up the lyrics. In the song you depict the life of the working man: nothing but a number, a cog in the machine who punches a time clock 5 days a week, and then finds himself through alcoholic salvation. I wonder if you tailor your lyrics to what you think your audience wants to hear, or if the lyrics really reflect how you think and feel.
Whatever the case may be, the sold out concerts and sheer tonnage of records you sold would testify to the fact that you connect solidly with millions of Americans. Please don’t take it the wrong way, but that fact troubles me. Now I’m sure you’re patriotic as all get out. I know you’re a USO member, and we all thank you for the time spends with our nation’s finest. But don’t you think that at some point your music loses its salve in the wound potency by merely pointing out the truth? And does it ever occur to you that perhaps you’re making a good living off the fact that a lot of people don’t? A little Nero-esque, don’t you think?
If it were me, I would want to be part of changing their situation rather than suggesting they just do their forty hours for the man, and then go get fucked up, and then providing the soundtrack for their beer soaked self-destruction. Do you ever consider your music defeatist? I’m not into censorship, and I’m not looking for one of those good time ass kickings you could no doubt hand me. But still, I wonder. Well, I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than read this elitist twaddle. I wish you and your family only the best. In the meantime, my hope is that you’ll stop convincing blue collar workers that the best thing they could do for themselves is buy a $40,000 pickup truck on a $30,000 salary.
Country performer Jake Owen first joined the chorus of detractors against the direction of country back in October when he told Rolling Stone in part, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckinâ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . .Â like when guys like Randy Travis released songs like âHe Walked on Waterâ â songs that meant something, man!â
Now he’s back at it as his single “Days of Gold” climbs the country charts, telling Country Weekly,
I donât mean to sound negative. I love country music right now, itâs awesome. But Iâm guilty of it, too. We all have songs that weâre tending to put out because theyâre working and itâs helping our careers. But songs like âThe Thunder Rollsâ or John Michael Montgomeryâs âLifeâs a Dance,â they were songs that meant something to people. You donât hear a lot of those songs anymore….People were like, thatâs real. There are so many songs now, and I have them, too, that are [about] sunshine, blue eyes, a tan. Thatâs not always real to everyone all the time. Or passing moonshine jars around. People do that when theyâre kids, but people also grow up. . . . Itâs important to have all kinds of songs.
As Saving Country Music pointed out about Jake Owen’s previous comments, Jake is the pot calling the popular country music kettle black when you listen to some of his songs like his current “Days of Gold” single. But in fairness to Jake, he’s also pointing this fact out too, again highlighting that even some of the artists that are part of country music’s current laundry list trend may not be doing it under their own recognizance, but are following orders from on high from labels looking to sell records, or doing what they music to keep their mainstream career relevant.
The amount of input an artist has on what songs end up on their major label album may be minimal to begin with, but they rarely have any control over what songs are released to radio as singles. As Jake Owen explained in his conversation with Country Weekly, he believes his song “What We Ain’t Got” is an important track. âIt has to come out at some point. Itâs the kind of song that will help my career tremendously, but I think it will hopefully help country music. Just to where other artists will know that itâs OK that radio will play songsâhopefullyâlike that, to where theyâll start recording really great songs again.â
But there’s no guarantee that the song will make it to radio, and even if it does, that anyone will listen. Jake’s comments virtually mirror comments by Toby Keith about his song “Hope On The Rocks” that his label (that he owns) was reluctant to put out because, “…there ainât no mud on that tire. That ainât about a Budweiser can. That ainât about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ainât about smoking a joint by the haystack. Thatâs about somebody dying and shit.ââ
As much as concerned country fans may see comments by Jake Owen and Toby Keith as hypocritical, it also speaks to how the concern and criticism about the lack of substance in country music has reached the very top reaches of country music. It’s not just bitter ramblings of country artists that never made it and their undying fans.
Back in March, country music Outlaw David Allan Coe was in a horrific accident where his black Suburban was broadsided by a semi truck in Ocala, Fl. Coe suffered cracked ribs and bruised kidneys in the accident, but was able to recover to perform again.
In the aftermath of the accident, there was a shakeup in David Allan Coe’s band and inner circle. As Saving Country Music reported after attending David Allan Coe’s first show back as part of Willie Nelson’s 40th Annual 4th of July picnic, David was quoted as saying, “…everybody quit me, except my wife. Sheâs the only one that didnât quit. My road manager of 35 years, he quit me. My band quit me. This is a brand new band, this is a brand new me.â
On November 8th, David Allan Coe’s son, Tyler Mahan Coe, who played guitar for his father, posted an in-depth letter describing his side of the story, saying in part, “The implication is that every person in his life, except his wife, abandoned him after his recent auto accident. Certainly, it doesn’t make sense to me that everyÂ person in someone’s life would take a hike because that person had a little accident. Must be something else going on there.” In short, Tyler blames David Allan Coe’s wife Kimberly for manipulating his father, leading to him and others being forced out of his father’s music business. Tyler also spelled out and addressed numerous concerns and grievances he and many David Allan Coe fans have had about his father’s live performances in recent years.
David Allan Coe’s accident, the subsequent fallout, and Tyler Coe’s letter have stimulated a discussion about David Allan Coe, his ethics and character, his contributions to the music world, and have many fans finally speaking out about a lackluster live show that they we’re unwilling to speak about previously out of respect for the performer.
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Look, this is the deal with David Allan Coe. David Allan Coe is a piece of garbage human being. As Al Goldstein once said straight to David’s face enlisting a cackle from David, “You’re a fucking degenerate.” He’s a sexist, racist, 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.
As Waylon Jennings once pointed out, David Allan Coe will stab you in the back and then ride off your name like he’s your best friend. He wears a stupid, waist-length golden-haired wig on stage as if he’s fooling anyone. He bashes anybody and everybody for getting in his way, abandoning him, or otherwise keeping him down, when he is clearly an arrogant, disrespectful, down-talking asshole who has little regard for anybody but himself, has bashed his Outlaw contemporaries while praising people like Kid Rock and Toby Keith, and once bragged about standing on top of the desk of a record executive, dropping his pants, and ordering him to perform oral sex on him.
At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, David Allan Coe is an American treasure, and a country music legend. Hank Williams Jr. may have sung about being a “Dinosaur,” but David Allan Coe truly is one. In a world where we’re all so whipped and so trained to not speak our minds, or to say what we think, and respect authority that is many times much more immoral, unfair, and corrupt than we could ever be, an individual like David Allan Coe is a breath of fresh air, and in a strange way, an inspiration in the way he is blatantly obvious about who he is, what he wants, and what he believes.
Anyone who wants to diminish David Allan Coe’s importance to country music, whether it’s because he’s put out some bad songs, bad albums, has a bad live show, or because he’s is a bad person, isn’t paying attention to the full breadth of his contributions, including some of the most indelible, important, and influential works of the country music canon. Forget “Longhaired Redneck,” go listen to “Jody Like A Melody” or “River” and then tell me David Allan Coe has nothing to offer.
And to simply call him “sexist” or “racist” really doesn’t do justice to the complex and tragic history of David Allan Coe’s life and upbringing, or the true nature of his opinions. David Allan Coe is one of the truest products and examples of the American experience because there is no bullshit from him, however ugly it is to behold. His attitudes and actions are a reflection our own sins and flaws as an American society, personified in a man who has zero respect for phony custom, or plastic courtesy. At the same time, it’s embarrassing that some choose to use him as their phony idol or icon for racist or sexist platitudes or principles, only reveling in the bad parts about David Allan Coe, and missing the complete panorama of his message and musical contributions.
I do not know Tyler Mahan Coe personally, though I have seen him perform with his father before. Having read many things he’s written over the years, including his latest letter clearing the air about what happen with his father, Tyler comes across as an intelligent and thoughtful individual, and I tend to take what he says as being the truth, and find his honesty and candor refreshing. Tyler Coe is right. Seeing David Allan Coe on any given night can be an exercise in disappointment, from his poor stage presence to his stupid vocal effects. But there is nothing that I read in Tyler’s letter, or anything else that gives me reason to respect David Allan Coe any less. The grim reality with any performer is that as time goes on, they will lose grip with their talent and abilities, especially when they live the type of self-destructive life fans expect, if not demand from certain artists.
When I saw David Allan Coe perform this summer at Willie Nelson’s 40th Annual 4th of July picnic, it was the most God awful performance of “country” music I had ever seen in my life. His band setup included two keyboards flanking him on the left and right, some weird percussionist guy, and struck the vibe of an underfunded and unrehearsed amateur church band that had set up in the food court of a mini mall in some forgotten region of scary, small-town USA preaching to inbreeds and introverts circa 1987.Â At the same time, I was super glad to be there to catch it, and to be able to see David Allan Coe still alive and performing after his accident.
Why? Because when David Allan Coe is gone forever, what he symbolizes and embodies will be gone forever too. And country music, and the rest of the world, will be a lot less of a colorful place. 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.
In mid October, Toby Keith lent his voice to the litany of artists criticizing modern country music in one capacity or another, specifically taking on the recent country rap trend, telling Country Weekly, “You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, âIs that what we gotta do now to have a hit? Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?’â The comments came in the context of Keith explaining how hard it is to get a country-sounding song played on the radio.
In another recent interview with Country 92.5 in Connecticut (listen below), Keith expanded on his statements, saying that his remarks weren’t a “diss,” but then doubled down on his opinion that rap shouldn’t be a predominant part of the country format.
I started that stuff with “[I Wanna] Talk About Me”… I think itâs cool to step out and do something like that, I just donât think itâs cool to make a living doing that….Itâs cool to step out and do some R&B stuff. Itâs cool to step out and do some rock stuff. Itâs cool to do traditional country. But at the end of the day if youâre gonna be a country artist, I donât think you just keep making a living off of turning country into hip-hop songs. I think the hip-hop artists would get tired of listening to you do bad country.
Artist like Colt Ford, Cowboy Troy, and even more mainstream artists like Florida Georgia Line regularly release singles that feature country rap, while some of country’s biggest male stars like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean have released multiple country rap singles. Keith also opens up the conversation about how country rap is viewed by a hip hop community that may be just as disappointed about what is happening with rap as many country fans are with country when the two formats mix.
Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” released in 2001 is given credit for being one of the first modern country rap songs, though at the time Keith was quoted as saying about it, “They’re going to call it a rap, [although] there ain’t nobody doing rap who would call it a rap.” The song was written by Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Braddock, and was originally slated to be released by Blake Shelton before being turned down as “too risky.” Later in the interview with Country 92.5, Keith left open the possibility of doing country rap in the future, but only as a one-off collaboration instead of a sonic direction for his music.
My son played on an elite football team that played Canada in San Antonio and Snoop Dogg’s son was on the team too. And we met down there and I had “Red Solo Cup” out then and he was going, “Man I need to get in the studio with you and hit on some of that ‘Red Solo Cup.’” I’d love to. Me and Snoop would be fun. It wasnât a diss as much as a do what you do, but get in your zone if youâre
going to be country.
Robb Flynn, vocalist, guitarist, and frontman for the long-running heavy metal band Machine Head is the latest to join the chorus of dissent against the direction of country music. In a journal entry sent to subscribers and posted publicly on Facebook, Flynn decried CMT and modern country music videos as the “Blinding of America.” Flynn’s comments were part of a bigger commentary soliciting fans for feedback about the direction they wanted to see Machine Head’s music take.
So when I get to the gym, I jump on the elliptical machine to warm up and often the TV has been left on the CMT (Country Music Channel) and sometimes I’ll change it to the news and other times I’ll just stare at the CMT channel and watch in silence. Well, virtual silence because I stare in disbelief and seethe at the soundless images coming off the screen at me….And all those video images are cut with carefully manicured guys and gals in jeans and cowboy hats, playing songs written by a high paid group of other writers who produce simple pop songs that have slide guitar and acoustic and sound all shit-kickin’ and country-fied….I ask myself while watching these fucking mind-meltingly bad videos, what do I want?
Flynn specifically takes on the flag-waving and religious aspects of modern country that many see as pandering.
I stare at the blinding of America. I stare at an endless stream of country music videos all showing the same thing – programming, subverting, and manipulating the viewer with religion and the well-oiled military machine. Visually the current theme is “heroes coming home from war, and their damsel-in-distress-lonely-women waiting for them as they stare at Jesus and touch their cross necklaces, praying.” I watched this same video play out over and over and over again. The not so subtle message playing out: âWar’s over guys, pray to Jesus!â
Flynn also talks specifically about Toby Keith’s song “Red Solo Cup,” but leaves it sort of ambiguous if he’s being sarcastic or not.
Every once in a while you’ll get a video like Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” which is just about partying and acting a fool, and I dig that, it’s not mindless propaganda other than well I guess… selling Solo cups and booze for his alcohol sponsor. But fuck it, I love that song!
Robb Flynn’s comments come within the wider context of a Season of Discontent where artists from inside and outside the country fold are speaking out about the direction of the genre more than ever before.
Country music in the second half of 2013 is going through some of the most historic changes the format has ever seen, with hip-hop influenced songs, albums, and artists dominating the charts, female artists being excluded like never before, and a litany of songs with laundry list lyrics or that are purposely written to be stupid garnering the lion’s share of attention. The ever-present erosion of what the term “country” defines has never been greater, and the charge of preserving the roots of country music has never been more dire.
As a symptom of all the change and upheaval, big-time artists are speaking out about the direction of country music like never before. We’re not talking about the usual suspects of country criticism like Dale Watson and friends, we’re talking about artists at the very top of the mainstream country food chain. Over the last three months, an average of 3 artists per month have spoken out about the direction of country—an overwhelming number when you consider these bouts of outspokeness would usually happen only a few times a year. And there’s no reason to believe this trend won’t continue.
So below we have aggregated a timeline of some of the music world’s top artists speaking out against the direction of country. In all likelihood, this timeline will continue to grow.
Speaking to American Songwriter, Kacey Musgraves said:
“My voice is undeniably country, and I love country. Do I love what itâs turned into? No, not all the way. Itâs a little embarrassing when people outside of the genre ask what I sing and I say country. You automatically get a negative response, a cheese factor. My favorite compliment ever is when someone says, ‘I hate country music but I love your music.’”
During an in interview with Rolling Stone, Tom Petty said:
“Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. Iâm sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but theyâre just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But thatâs the way it always is, isnât it?
But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I donât really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. Iâm sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I donât want to rail on about country because I donât really know much about it, but thatâs what it seems like to me.”
When asked by GQ what music trend needed to die out immediately, Kacey Musgraves said:
“Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop â nobody cares! Itâs not fun to listen to.Â I thought dubstep was cool for two secondsÂ -Â but that can go away now too. It sounds like a malfunction of some kind.”
Kacey also said when asked what the best-dressed men in Nashville are wearing these days, “Nothing by Affliction. Just burn the warehouse down. Itâs just douchey and really gaudy.”
While speaking with Reuters, Sheryl Crow, who just made a move to the country format and released a country album called Feels Like Home, said about her country move:
âThe country format is more pop than pop was when I came up two decades ago,â
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Alan Jackson said:
“Right now, it seems like itâs gone. Itâs not that Iâm against all thatâs out there. Thereâs some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but thereâs really no country stuff left. Itâs always been that constant pop-country battle. I donât think itâs ever going to change. What makes me sad today is that I think the real country, real roots-y traditional stuff, may be gone. I donât know if itâll ever be back on mainstream radio. You canât get it played anymore.”
During an interview with Larry King, Gary Allan was asked if Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood were country, and he said:Â
“You know, I would say no. I would say theyâre pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I donât feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channelâs and the Cumulusâs and the big companies bought up all the chains, now itâs about a demographic. You know, so theyâve kind of sliced everything up, feeding it to the public in demographics.
“Like if you want to get to the young kids, you put it on the alternative station. Weâve sort of ended up in thisâŚweâre nicknamed the soccer mom, like 35 to 45 year-old woman I think is what our demographic is. So itâs very different. You used to be able to turn on the radio and you knew instantly it was the country station just by listening to it, and now youâve got to leave it there for a second to figure it outâŚ. To me, country music is still Monday through Friday, and popâs about what happens on the weekends.â
Gary Allan later clarified his statements, saying his words were taken out of context, and that he appreciated country radio and everything it had done for his career.
When speaking to Barbara Beam ofÂ 93.7 JR FM in Vancouver, Canada, Zac Brown said:
“I love Luke Bryan and heâs had some great songs, but this new songÂ is the worst song Iâve ever heard.Â I know Luke, heâs a friend. âMy Kind Of Nightâ is one of the worst songs Iâve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.
“If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, Iâm gonna throw up. Thereâs songs out there on the radio right now that make me be ashamed to be even in the same format as some other artists. You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs. Thereâs been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and itâs the exact same words, just arranged different ways.”
When speaking to “The Barnyard Show” on 92.5 in Connecticut about why there is so few women on the country music charts, Sheryl Crow said:
“I do think that in the last ten, fifteen years art has gone the way of commerce. Whenever thereâs money involved, then you figure out whatâs going to bring in sponsors, and whatâs going to resonate with people and whatâs going to sell records….Iâd love to see that change.”
When talking to Rolling Stone about his new album, Jake Owen said:
“We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckinâ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . .Â [like] when guys like Randy Travis released songs like âHe Walked on Waterâ â songs that meant something, man!â
When speaking to Country Weekly about country rap, Toby Keith said:
âYou hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, âIs that what we gotta do now to have a hit?â I donât know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?…You start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and itâs like, âNaw, man, there ainât no mud on that tire. That ainât about a Budweiser can. That ainât about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ainât about smoking a joint by the haystack. Thatâs about somebody dying and sh-t.ââ
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If you’re a male performer in country music right now, you may no longer have a choice. If you want to see your singles and records reach the top of the charts, if you want your songs played on the radio, and if you want to be in contention for the big awards, you better add some hip hop elements into your music.
It seems almost inexplicable that this statement could be made about American country music, but when looking at the top performing songs, albums, and artists in the format, and how many of them have at least some form of the hip-hop culture embedded in their music, the statement isn’t controversial, it is conclusive. And Saving Country Music isn’t the only one pointing this out.
“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, âIs that what we gotta do now to have a hit? Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?” says Toby Keith, who not only was the best-selling country artist from the 2000′s decade, but is the owner of the influential Show Dog Universal label, and the highest paid person in country music from his stake in multiple record companies.
Even as a top label executive, Toby is having trouble convincing his own people to push music that doesn’t include electronic beats or rapping. According to Keith, when he brings them country songs, they tell him, “Eh, it doesn’t sound like whatâs going on the radio today.”Â
The two best-charting, biggest-selling songs of 2013 so far have been songs that lean heavily on hip-hop influences: Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night.” Both songs broke records in 2013, with “Cruise” breaking the all-time record for any country single with 23+ weeks at the #1 position, and “That’s My Kind Of Night” breaking a record for the most consecutive weeks at #1 for a solo male performer—a record held since 1966.
Currently, the #1, #2, #6, #7 songs on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart feature hip hop influences, while Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, and Tim McGraw at the #4, #5, #9 positions respectively have all had major country rap singles, including Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” that was the biggest-selling song in all of country in 2011. Three of the five nominees for both Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year for the upcoming CMA Awards have cut country rap songs.
But just because a song has hip hop influences, doesn’t make it bad. It has been the combination of country rap and the laundry list style of lyricism that has been the 1-2 punch to the integrity of the country genre, and especially the material emanating from male talent. This trend has caused a recent uproar, with many artists speaking out, including artists who have themselves participated in either the country rap or laundry list trend, including Jake Owen who recently said, âWe need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckinâ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that,” potentially dissing Toby Keith’s hit “Red Solo Cup.” Â Keith was also arguably responsible for the first country rap song in the modern era when he rapped the verses in his 2001 hit “I Wanna Talk About Me.”
It may not be as much that Jake Owen and Toby Keith are being hypocritical as much as they are big stars that are expected to deliver hit singles, and they are sick and tired of chasing the current trends where there is little or no room for substance. When Keith spoke about his recent single “Hope On The Rocks” that stalled at #18 on the Country Airplay chart, he said, “…you start playing it to a twenty-something audience, and itâs like, âNaw, man, there ainât no mud on that tire. That ainât about a Budweiser can. That ainât about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ainât about smoking a joint by the haystack. Thatâs about somebody dying and shit.ââ
So does that mean we can expect Toby Keith to go the country rap route? “I donât know how to do that,” Keith explains. “Iâm not going to change much. And when it quits working, I’ve got other stuff to do.â Â But if he doesn’t, Keith runs the risk of losing his relevancy as a mainstream country artist. That is why we’ve seen middle-aged country performers like Tim McGraw and Ronnie Dunn cut country rap songs recently, and why most of the up-and-coming country males that are making their mark are doing it through country rap.
Peer and financial pressures are making it mandatory for male country artists to start off their songs with a hip hop beat, or rap the verses to their songs, even if it is just a verse or two. Forget the stigma of trying to bring hip hop into the country format. If you’re a male country star in 2013, you can’t afford not to.
Yet another big name country star is speaking out about the current state of country music. This time it is RCA Records’ Jake Owen who is out promoting his new single “Days of Gold” ahead of the release of his upcoming album of the same name December 3rd. On that album is a piano and pedal steel-driven ballad called “(We All Want) What We Ain’t Got,” and when talking to Rolling Stone about the song, Jake said:
“We need more of those kinds of songs in [country music]. “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . .Â [like] when guys like Randy Travis released songs like ‘He Walked on Water’ â songs that meant something, man!”
Jake Owen is referring to the current trend amongst mainstream country males to depend on very obvious and simplistic songwriting formulas that simply refer to artifacts of country life, known to their detractors as checklist, or laundry list country songs. His reference to “cups” may be a specific dig at Toby Keith’s recent hit “Red Solo Cup.”
Jake Owen joins a growing chorus of artists decrying country music’s current direction, including Alan Jackson, Kacey Musgraves, Gary Allan, and most notably Zac Brown who recently called Luke Bryan’s current #1 single “That’s My Kind Of Night” the worst song ever. But as it has been asserted about some of the other recently outspoken country stars, Jake Owen’s criticisms seem like a case of the pot calling the kettle black, and certainly even more so than that case could be made about Zac Brown or Gary Allan.
Jake Owen acknowledges he’s not always been the deepest of performers in the same Rolling Stone interview, saying, “I’ve definitely had moments in my career where I’ve released songs that were not necessarily the most, you know, in-depth-written song, or maybe it was a party anthem. I wanted to start adding more validity to my music.” But a few seconds into Jake’s current single “Days of Gold” and you don’t hear validity, you hear hypocrisy compared to his recent statements, however much substance the other songs of his upcoming album might have.
“Long truck bed hop in it, Fire engine red like her lip stick
Out here we can let it go, But just me and my good friends
Jug of wine little sip, Out here baby you just never know”
There seems to be little or no trouble for country music’s stars to spy the problem of constantly calling on the same tired formulas for hit radio singles, but they don’t seem to be inclined or empowered to do anything about it. It’s very likely Jake Owens’ new album will include songs with more depth, just like many of the albums of country’s top male stars do. But in a music world dominated by singles, song downloads, streams, and viral videos, it is unlikely the public will hear them en masse as they will a song like “Days Of Gold.”
Pot, meet kettle.
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, Iâll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. Weâll see where the fuck youâre at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, âfuck you if youâre gonna rip us off like that on your first release.â
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I donât even comment on these things, really. I donât even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I donât know. Itâs, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and Iâm like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I donât know how many times I have to say it: No, heâs not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire cultureâand not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, “âNone of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.â According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, “âTheyâre doinâ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckinââ (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” ââDierksâ has officially ripped off my song âIn A Razor Town.ââ Isbell fired off. âDierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called âHome.ââÂ Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, âThis is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about thingsâI donât really believe in lawsuits or threatsâI took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? Thatâs crazy. I donât know what would make an artÂist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about someÂthing other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made toÂ Rolling StoneÂ was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are Godâs answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF âOLD FARTâ & JACKASSâ) â P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement âNobody wants to listen to their grandpas musicâ..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLYâŚ The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. âFor The Goodtimesâ Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
I like Will Hoge. I think he’s a good songwriter. A few months ago I wrote an article about 7 Men Who Could Immediately Make Country Music Better, and I included Will Hoge on that list.
Will Hoge is a man who could make a difference. While delving into the business of Saving Country Music, folks can get baited into falling into the routine of lampooning anything construable as pop country, and championing anything independent or traditional. But in the end it may be artists like Will Hoge who reside between these two worlds—who have both commercial appeal and artistic substance—that have the greatest chance of making fundamental change in the mainstream music world.
When Will Hoge scored a #1 as a songwriter for Eli Young Band, he was destined to become a hot Nashville commodity, and that is exactly what has happened. His latest release is a song called “Strong,” and like so many of Will’s compositions, it demonstrates heart, depth, soul, and taste. There’s a lot of emotion in this song. It’s weighty. But in the immortal words of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, it’s….
That’s right. The song itself is not a commercial per se. It was written to stand on its own. But just like Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock,” and John Mellencamp’s “Our Country,” it has been tapped to become the official song of the Chevy Silverado—destined to be played half a dozen times during every single football game for the next two years at least, and maybe longer. You may love this song now, but let’s see how you feel about it after the Super Bowl in 2015.
Unlike the other Silverado songs, “Strong” was never released on its own before being assigned this distinct position. Here in 2013, the official song of the Chevy Silverado feels just as much like an indelible American institution as anything. You can guess someone’s age by asking them what song they heard in Chevy commercials growing up. Does it make it somewhat shady, or blur the lines even more between commercial and artistic content that the song was never given its own legs before being released in this way?
I say no, and yes. By definition, this is a sellout move by Will Hoge, whether we like him as an artist, or not. Would it be fair to give him any less criticism than some people give an artist like, let’s say, Toby Keith, who’s made many appearances in Ford commercials over the years, and calls himself “The Ford Truck Man”? Does it make any difference that, unlike Toby’s Ford jingles, “Strong” actually has substance, and that it’s from an artist whose built a career on sincerity?
And then we get to the whole business of trucks, commercials, and country music to begin with, and my little semi-conspiracy that auto companies have been targeting the country music demographic with their marketing, and that is why there are so many truck songs in country music these days. And this leads to the conversation about the blurring of lines between what is music, and what is marketing. Jay-Z releases an album for free to people who buy a certain phone. Will Hoge releases a song through a Chevy commercial. At some point, it may become commonplace for artists and labels may use commercials and promotional product giveaways to release music in lieu of radio. But then again, who can blame them when corporate radio has become so collusive?
In the end, is the song good? Yes. For certain fans that worry about such things, is it unfortunate that it was released in a commercial? Of course. It’s a new paradigm that were likely to be faced with increasingly as music revenue continues to dwindle and artists and labels continue to try and discover new avenues to get their music to the masses. In the end, it was probably better that it was Will Hoge getting the payday for his truck song (that only mentions a truck once), instead of Jason Aldean or Tim McGraw, and that we will all be subjected to “Strong” over and over through the NFL season, and not McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.”
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
(the 1 1/4 for a good song, the 3/4′s for releasing it as a commercial)
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The importance of authenticity and realism in country and roots music cannot be overstated. And as you work your way down the musical food chain from big stadium acts like Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift, to more artistically-minded acts like The Civil Wars, all the way down to the guy playing guitar down at the local bar, that authenticity becomes even more important in the minds of listeners.
We like to think of musical duos and groups as troupes of kindred souls that get together to share the musical experience, and that we are simply the fortunate voyeurs who get to peer into their reality and share in their joy. In truth, most musical enterprises are burdened with some sort of tension and conflict, even if it only exists in the short term. From the outside looking in, fans are often confounded why certain musical pairings can’t tough it out through conflict for the good of the music (and for the project’s financial gain), but the melding of music and egos can be such a perilous thing, the stories of musical collaborations sticking it out in the long term is more of the exception than the rule.
These issues become compounded when you’re dealing with a musical relationship that has become much more than a duo or group, but a major entertainment franchise whose name constitutes a financial mint that sometimes millions of dollars has been invested in by record labels, promoters, and other backers.
Like big banks, many times these franchises become “too big to fail,” and performers must fight through bad blood and tension, sometimes for years, to keep the franchise going, sometimes against their will because of financial or contractual obligation.
Brooks & Dunn were said to be beset with this type of unbearable tension for a period before their eventual break up, reportedly not speaking to each other off the stage near the end. Superstar trio Lady Antebellum had to hire a mediator in their early days—a sharp contrast to the smiling faces on stage that would allude to the idea that the three members are friends. In truth Lady Antebellum and many of country music’s big acts should be characterized more as carefully orchestrated business arrangements instead of creative endeavors amongst friends.
And this brings us to this ongoing, unusual situation with the award-winning Americana singing duo The Civil Wars. The recently-split duo is now set to release a new album…though they’re completely open about the fact that they’re not even speaking to each other. How is a music fan, or specifically a Civil Wars fan supposed to perceive this? How can you submit to their music when you know there’s open tension between the two, especially when their music has depended so much on the intimacy the duo strikes in their singing and lyricism?
At least they’re being honest about their once dubbed “irreconcilable differences,” which is a curiosity in its own right because the term “irreconcilable” seems to allude to never reconciling, yet the duo must agree in spirit to some things to at least see this latest album out into the world. They’re even going as far as saying that they’re using the tension as a source of inspiration and muse. Is this sentiment built from sincerity, or a sales pitch to circumvent their fan’s concerns?
Some have even surmised that maybe this whole bubbling feud is simply to spark interest and intrigue in the project. Maybe they both simply have to fulfill a contract or face financial ruin, and they are simply fighting through their hate. And don’t for a second fancy The Civil Wars as a small, boutique musical franchise. Though their music may have much more of an artistic aim than mainstream country, over the years they’ve enjoyed big accolades from industry awards like the CMA’s, ACM’s, and Grammy’s, and surely have amassed much wealth from their music, and many obligations. Maybe suspicious notions of the duo are unfair, but when you’ve raised the facade on your intimate stage persona that presented the duo as kindred spirits in song, it’s hard to blame folks for wondering what else they’re not being shown.
Is it in any way possible for this collaboration and their latest album to be successful under the circumstances? One of my open criticisms of The Civil Wars over the years has been the sappiness of their presentation. I once compared it to Sonny & Cher; how in better days The Civil Wars would stare in each other’s eyes so sweetly on stage. Maybe this intense, and in many ways unnatural affection is what led to their differences becoming irreconcilable. Maybe The Civil Wars burned too bright, too quickly, found overwhelming success overnight, and now the flame is gone.
But Sonny & Cher were able to reconcile after their divorce, at least for the cameras, and at least for a while when they launched the Sonny & Cher Show in 1976. But the show eventually floundered. The chemistry between the two stars was gone, and no amount of writing and production could bring it back. Chemistry is that big unknown quotient that you can’t manufacture, and was one of the principle ingredients to The Civil Wars’ success.
What kind of money is awaiting the surviving members of Led Zeppelin if they decided to book a reunion tour? Would it be the highest grossing tour in the history of music? Possibly, but Robert Plant is perfectly content playing big clubs and small theaters with his Band of Joy. Why? Because the experience feels more real to him. When I look at the eyes of The Civil Wars’ John Paul White, that is what I see—a yearning to return to the days when it was about the creative process and intimate crowds. While in Joy Williams I see a woman who wants to make the world her oyster; not wanting to give up on what the duo has already built. Of course, these are all personal perceptions. What the reality is, that’s anyone’s guess. But it’s the perceptions, not the reality, that may be the duo’s biggest problem.
In the end, whatever you may read on the internet or in magazines has no bearing on the quality of the music The Civil Wars release. But then again, everything you read and know about The Civil Wars has everything to do with how that music will be perceived. The Civil Wars are not Jason Aldean or Toby Keith, and can’t rely on a passive audience who suspends disbelief as a matter of habit to resolve the lack of authenticity from their favorite artists. The Civil Wars appeal to an elevated, active music listener. And that may be The Civil Wars circa 2013′s biggest hurdle when it comes to presenting their new music, and having you believe it.
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