- The Guardian's 10 Best Albums incl. Sturgill, Tami Neilson, Jason Eady
- Hear Unreleased Joe Ely and Linda Ronstadt duet "Where Is My Love"
- If You Missed It: Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver on Letterman
- NPR Tiny Desk Concert with Lucinda Williams
- Titles from Willie, Hank Williams, Bob Wills Headed to Grammy Hall of Fame
- Hear New Joe Pug Song "If Still It Can Be Found"
- Houston Press: Is Country Music Ready For Sturgill Simpson?
- Blitzen Trapper Releases Free Live Album
- Eric Church's "The Outsiders" Goes Platinum
- Fatal South by Southwest Crash Brings First Wave of Lawsuits
- New Song from Cody Canada and the Departed "Easy"
- Flaco Jimenez to receive Lifetime Grammy Award
- Original Grateful Dead Manager Rock Scully Dead at 73
- Nashville Scene Rips Into American Country Countdown Awards
- Ardent Studios Founder John Fry Dies at 69
- Windowing New Music May Not Goose Sales, Study Shows
- Engineer and Producer John Hampton Dies
- Famous Nashville Backup Singer Millie Kirkham Dies at 91
- Proof How Much The Music Industry Has Changed In The Last Ten Years
- NY Times' Jon Caramanica's Top 10 Albums Includes Sturgill Simpson
- Galleywinter's Favorites of 2014
Move over Jamey Johnson and Kacey Musgraves. There’s a new critical darling in country music, and he’s neither country nor worthy of critical acclaim. Yes, I’m talking about the suave-haired cocaine club EDM-fueled country music marketing colossus and Svengali of the country music public named Sam Hunt.
This isn’t hard people. Toby Keith’s song “Drunk Americans” isn’t “social commentary,” Kenny Chesney’s new album The Big Revival is not “progressive,” and Sam Hunt and his music have nothing to do with country aside from the channels it’s been chosen to be peddled under because the historically pliable country music fan won’t question as a turd sandwich is shoved down their throat and called tuna.
In country music’s big pivot from the shallowness of Bro-Country, apparently they believe you don’t have to materially improve your music, you just have to say that you are, and country music media will lap it up. Unlike the dunces in Florida Georgia Line or Brantley Gilbert who I’ve yet hear form a complete sentence, when you shove a microphone in the face of Sam Hunt, actual coherent language comes out, and apparently that feat is enough to woo country music’s literati into believing he has a legitimate place not just under the country music umbrella, but perched on the crown of it. Oh, and if you don’t see the country music merit Sam Hunt, it’s because you’re a closed-minded, shallow-listening purist who needs to remove the stick from your ass and understand that country music has evolved, yo.
In a barrage of recent press, Sam Hunt apologists pontificate how country music’s answer to the rise of EDM is not just legitimately qualified to be considered “country,” but that his music is of high quality, and is healthy for the genre. Excuse me, but can someone please ship the “quality” version of Hunt’s Montevallo to the Saving Country Music headquarters, because sweeping aside all of the arguments of what is country or not, “quality” is something that never ever crossed my mind when listening to that aggressively mind-numbing exploration of musical tropes and oft called-upon clichés machine gunned out in unmerciless succession.
It seems some of the theories of how excellent Sam Hunt’s album is are based off of the involvement of songwriter Shane McAnally—a critic’s superstar at the moment because of his work with Kacey Musgraves on many of her acclaimed songs. This was an important point made in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview with Sam Hunt, and in another piece by the great Barry Mazor (who has an excellent new book out about Ralph Peer) writing for Engine 145. “Hunt’s written the ten songs with the likes of Zach Crowell, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally—the latter pair wrote ‘Merry Go Round’ with Kacey Musgraves, and Crowell and McAnally produced the set, keeping these particular pop country sounds tightly and appropriately tied to the songs’ meanings and levels of emotionality. Sam Hunt brings to all that the assured vocal finesse that can give ‘polished’ a good name.”
But what these taste makers are overlooking is that McAnally’s list of song credits has always been a mixed bag of semi-quality, yet still formulaic offerings for the mainstream, along with unapologetic commercial tunes. As Saving Country Music pointed out in September of 2013 in an article called Dallas Davidson & Country Music’s Narrowing Songwriting Consortium, “On the surface he seems to be a writer who works with more substance compared to Luke Laird and Dallas Davidson, but he’s also given credit for co-writing Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Party People,’ and Lady Antebellum’s ultra-saccharine ‘Downtown.’”
No offense to Shane McAnally; it’s great that he’s been able to be a part of songs that at least attempt to instill some quality in the mainstream, but that shouldn’t allow him a lifelong hall pass from hearing about it when he helps to write rubbish, like Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans” or Sam Hunt’s “Leave The Night On.” In my opinion McAnally has burned through his critical cred long ago, and at the least is on an even keel when looking critically at any future creative output, not grading him on a curve.
And besides, the songwriting is arguably where Sam Hunt and Montevallo suffer the most. While Hunt’s defenders focus on trying to explain why it is okay to call urban club music “country,” they also lean on the songwriting as the consensus builder of the album and what ultimately makes it “country.” Sam Hunt tells Entertainment Weekly, “I feel like they’re all country songs lyrically. They’re just stories about country life.” And Barry Mazor says Sam Hunt is “potent music that reflects the lives, responses and rhythms” of low-income country folks. But aside from the lyrics of “Break Up in a Small Town” which nestles down in what has to be the one of the most overused cliché tropes of modern country, I fail to see what is so country about these songs, while some of them venture so far into urban themes they could illustrate the absolute antithesis of country from a lyrical standpoint, punctuated by urban annunciations, artifacts, behavior, and jargon.
I truly question if I’m listening to the same damn album as these other writers. I hear Sam Hunt quoting Train’s “Drops of Jupiter,” and saying lines like “It’s still early out in Cali,” “Blame it on the bikinis, party girls, and martinis,” “Tanned legs in the nights, sliding out of the sea, stilettos at the crosswalk,” and “All dolled up at the bar, with debit cards, they don’t know how pretty they are
City girls, city girls.”
Doesn’t sound very country to me.
As Saving Country Music said in the review of Montevallo, it is “an excruciatingly-typical urban dance album that does Molly-laced grinds up against every single worn out trope of the velvet-roped, indirect-lighted, $15 cocktail club scene and the music thereof. Aside from the banjo in the song “House Party,” the steel guitar in “Single for the Summer,” and the sentiment in “Break Up In A Small Town,” this ten-song LP is a product of the pop/EDM world 100%.”
Barry Mazor also says that some critics “notice only that the subject territory seems similar to that of a lot of ‘Chart Country’ guyz lately, and the record’s tone on the more pop end of the spectrum…” He also goes on to call Sam Hunt and Montevallo, “fine country music.”
The Fader goes one step further, with writer Duncan Cooper penning a piece called Why Sam Hunt is Good for Country Music. In the article he contrasts the success of Sam Hunt with the rise of Sturgill Simpson. He also talks to Mr. Hunt, and even reads him a quote from the aforementioned SCM review of Montevallo that goes, “Nice guy and good songs or not, Sam Hunt isn’t stretching the ‘country’ term, he is a downright attacking it, and represents a fulfillment of the mono-genre that should be roundly rejected by country music or face potentially dire long-term consequences.”
Sam Hunt’s response is, “My intention was not to try to convince any skeptics that my music was country. It’s hard to understand everybody’s definition of what country music is, and mine may not fit the definition of my critics, so it’s kind of pointless for me to get involved in an argument where we just have different ideas about what country music is. In an argument like that, I think two people can be right.”
Sorry Sam, but you’re wrong, and you know it, and you know this entire project was hatched as a calculated marketing angle that has paid off in spades. Now you and others are trying to justify this pursuit because it clearly doesn’t fit within the country music panorama.
The Fader‘s Duncan Cooper does make a valiant attempt in a well-written piece to say that both traditional-sounding artists like Sturgill Simpson, and EDM artists like Sam Hunt, can be called country, and we can all join hands and sing “Kumbaya” under one big cohabited tent. However the truth is country music has become the veritable ground zero for the contentious culture war by taking musical elements and members of different segments in society and trying to scrunch them all together uncomfortably in one genre for the marketing expediency of major labels. There is absolutely nothing wrong with EDM music, or hip-hop, or rock, or pop, or even combining these styles when it is done with heart and taste. If Sam Hunt wants to make urban dance music, then hey, he should do that. But he should call it what it is and push it through the appropriate channels as opposed to being a catalyst for conflict by predicating his music on sonic misnomers that breed misunderstanding.
Music as a gateway drug only works if it accurately represents where you’re trying to lead listeners.
With all respect to The Fader and Duncan Cooper, he misidentifies the concerns of country traditionalists by saying, “Large corporations have seen reason to give supercountry a boost, and in doing so, have implicitly crowded out more traditional styles that might’ve been promoted instead, derailing hypothetical futures where roots-minded artists might, with equal exposure, attain equal audiences.”
This is where people who wish to defend the integrity of the term “country” and the genre it represents are commonly misunderstood. Sturgill Simpson doesn’t want to be signed to a major label or win big awards, and neither do his fans. They’re perfectly happy seeing him in packed clubs or small theaters, and fear the day they have to squint at him on a stadium stage. Sturgill doesn’t want to be associated with what is being played on the radio. There is no envy or jealousy whatsoever. Should Sturgill Simpson be recognized by the CMA Awards or be played on the radio? Of course he should, but if it is done by Sturgill Simpson compromising who he is instead of the industry truly recognizing what they’ve missed, there’s no value in it. They would rather stick to the independent world.
There is this diseased sentiment that is currently being carried by country that you should strive to be the biggest of everything, and that is how success is measured. That is why the country industry is pushing artists like Sam Hunt so strongly. But in striving to be the biggest, you detach yourself from your roots, you don’t grow sustainably, and holes begin to populate the integrity of what you’re doing, putting you on unsure footing and the path for an eventual fall from grace. See rock music.
Diversity is what makes music both beautiful and healthy, and a vibrant tapestry for consumers to explore and find fulfillment in ways that enrich their lives in a manner that speaks to them more personally based off their predisposed tendencies and cultural upbringing. And somehow when you come to the defense of this diversity, and challenge the idea that all music should sound different and be accurately classified to aid this exploratory endeavor, it is mischaracterized as closed-minded or being unwilling to evolve.
Before there was Sam Hunt and “We Can Leave The Night On,” there was Jerrod Niemann and “I Can Drink To That All Night.” Anyone heard from Jerrod Niemann lately? Anyone even keeping up on how his last two singles have been huge failures? He stretched the boundaries too far, and though he succeeded in garnering himself some short-term attention, in the end it wasn’t only unsustainable, it was ultimately detrimental to his career. And that is the same risk country music runs by betting its future on Sam Hunt, EDM, or anything else that resides out of country’s historical fold.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Sturgill Simpson has been hinting at the possibility of collaborating with electronic elements in his future projects.
Sam Hunt seems like a great guy and a smart cookie, and good for him. And if country critics or listeners find a guilty or an non-guilty pleasure in his music, who is it for me or anyone else to step in front of the enjoyment of that music? But the simple fact is he’s not country, and the CMA, radio station programmers, label executives, critics, and even fellow country stars should stand up for the integrity of the country genre, put forward and celebrate it’s virtues instead of the virtues of other genres, and be happy playing second fiddle to pop instead of trying to take over the popular music world by incorporating it.
Let’s celebrate the diversity of music, not attempt to resolve it.
Have you ever wondered who actually listens to those awful songs they play on pop country radio? Here are the six primary Archetypes, or as Music Row refers to them, the “target demographics” that make up the audience of the pop country world.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a revised version of the original 6 Pop Country Archetypes published in 2011. The new version takes into consideration country music’s changing demographics. Basically, pop country has become even more of a bastion for sexism and troglodytes.
The Objectified Pop Country Girl
She thinks being condescended by country’s hot young Bro-Country stars is sexy. She used to like female country artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, but now she is mostly obsessed with male singers, and bases who her favorite acts are at any given time strictly off of who is the hottest. Shirt tied in the front, daisy dukes, boots, bronzer, blonde or heavily-highlighted hair under a cheap Panama Jack straw cowboy hat, she’s an automaton of patriarchal rule wanting to present herself as the perfect country girl to be talked down to just like the ones portrayed in Bro-Country songs. Technologically inept and “so totally going” to every mainstream country concert that comes through town, she is the economic catalyst still keeping corporate country alive by buying deluxe edition CD’s and $350.00 front row tickets on the secondary market. She lives to put her hands in the air and scream when the band tells her to. She won’t dance with you at the honky tonk, but as soon as the DJ starts playing hip-hop, she’s out with her seven friends in the center of the dance floor, twerking and taking selfies. Her face is buried in her phone.
Tight spandex-blended T-shirt, designer jeans, backwards baseball cap, and a Medusa of wallet chains clanking from his waist, he’s the bullseye of Music Row’s target demographic. Those rips in his jeans didn’t come from running barbed wire, but a 70-year-old Laotian woman working at an Armani factory making .36 cents an hour. On UFC stats and Florida Georgia Line lyrics, he’s a expert. He shaves his testicles so his panty-cut underwear won’t chafe, and he treats women like objects. He likes to listen to laundry list country songs about dirt roads and pickup trucks, but his idea of “roughing it” is not dousing himself in Axe body spray before hitting his suburb’s corporate country bar. Don’t mess with him or his frat buddies or they’ll call you a fag right before vomiting in the bushes. He wants to show you his tribal tattoos.
Morbidly obese, woefully unemployed, and draped in whatever his local Wal-Mart stocks in XXXL, he thinks he’s a gangster, but instead he’s just an overweight loser land locked in a small town in America’s breadbasket. If you don’t like Big Smo or Bubba Sparxxx, you’re clearly a dumb, city-dwelling Yankee liberal who drives a Prius and doesn’t get what it’s like down in the South. He got a title loan on his 1994 Grand Am so he could get a tattoo of an alien smoking a joint on his neck. He would move to a bigger city, but he doesn’t have the gas money to even make it to the county seat, and besides, the real gangsters would kick his ass within five minutes. He likes to snort Dr. Scholls foot powder and pretend it’s cocaine because he can’t afford meth. He knows a guy in LA that he sent his demo to, and once he hits it big, he’s getting the hell out of this town. He knocked up some girl that works at Dairy Queen just so he could bitch to his friends about his “baby mama drama.” His problems are everyone else’s fault.
The Red-Blooded ‘Merican
He can’t wait for Armageddon to come so he can start mowing down Muslims unilaterally with his stockpile of guns and ammunition hoarded before the Obama Administration makes all guns illegal and enacts Sharia Law. You’re damn right he likes Toby Keith, and only REAL country like Justin Moore and Jason Aldean. Any opinion that is in opposition to his will be spun into an insult to American troops in combat. He swears he knew the Dixie Chicks were commies way before everyone else did, but he had the plump one sign his Stetson in Sharpie in 2001 (he keeps it hidden in the bottom shelf of his gun safe). He’ll shoot at you if any portion of your tire touches his property line when you’re making a U-turn out on the highway, and if you’re one of them towel-heads, he’ll shoot to kill. He thinks Garth-era printed button up collared shirts are still hip.
The Adult Contemporary Divorcee
Three grown kids, thrice divorced, she’ll elbow a legion of glitter-faced pop country girls out of her way to get eye level with Luke Bryan’s crotch as he does “The Move” on the edge of the concert runway, hoping he waxes out yet again and her ample bosom pads his gorgeous fall. Fueled by boxed wine and Lean Cuisine, the older men of mainstream country such as Tim McGraw and Keith Urban make up the cast of her sultry romance novel-style fantasies that she lives out during elongated bubble baths and bunkerings in her queen-sized bed with bon bons and ice cream pints. Celebrity gossip that surrounds her favorite country stars fuels her obsession, especially stories of heartfelt Cancer deeds and kindness towards animals, reinforcing her misguided view that these artists are altruistic heroes as opposed to plastic personas making calculated publicity stunts. She obsessively posts pictures of her cats/dogs on social media and lives in a mess of animal hair.
The Windshield Cowboy
Always sporting a brand spanking new F-250 truck or bigger, he needs this heavy equipment as a middle management quality control paper pusher in a cubicle farm located in white flight Suburbia. He listens to songs about dirt roads, but’ll be damned if he takes his baby off the blacktop and gets a brush scratch in the paint. Similar politics and mindset to The Red Blooded ‘Merican, but instead of spending his weekends target practicing, he’s towing his bass boat, ATV’s, jet skis, or other recreational vehicles to the lake. Similar to the The Wallet Chain Douchewad, his material objects mean everything to him. He believes owning a truck is a validation of manhood, and whoever is in that rice burner in front of him is ignorant and weak and better get the hell out of his way. He’d like you to think he owns a ranch, but a rancher’s wage wouldn’t even pay his truck’s interest. No, he cannot use his truck to help you move next weekend, he has to wash his truck. He likes songs about trucks.
- – - – - – -
Turnabout is fair play, so a revised version of The 6 “Other” Country Archetypes is on the way.
Nashville’s and country music’s most influential record label is reportedly getting ready to be put up for sale according to a new report from Hits Daily Double, and Taylor Swift’s 1989 album release and pending contract situation could have a big impact on it. $200 million dollars is said to be the asking price for Scott Borchetta’s prized possession.
Despite being a big label with many famous artist and significant subsidiaries, the Big Machine Label Group remains independently owned, operating through distribution deals with Republic Records in the United States, and Universal Music Group internationally. Along with Taylor Swift, the label group is the home of Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Justin Moore, Reba McEntire, and many more.
This is not the first time Big Machine has been rumored to be up for sale. In 2011, Sony was reportedly in negotiations to acquire the label for the same sum of $200 million, and they weren’t the only ones showing interest. Big Machine’s distribution partners Universal Music Group were also rumored to be considering entering a bid on the label.
Key to this new deal would be Taylor Swift according to reports, who after the release of 1989 will owe Big Machine one more record before being free of her contract. Whether Scott Borchetta can re-sign the mega-star, or whether she will decide to run her own labeling and distribution similar to how she does with booking and management remains in question. “Swift’s valuation will be far more meaningful for Borchetta if he can re-sign her, because she’s clearly the jewel in Borchetta’s crown,” says Hits Daily Double. “The fact of the matter is that Borchetta must bring Swift with him in order to make his company truly attractive in the eyes of prospective bidders.”
Taylor Swift is considered one of the biggest artists, if not the biggest artist of this generation, and many of the early estimates of how many albums 1989 could sell have her becoming 2014′s first Platinum-selling act, denoting 1 million albums sold. Her last album Red debuted with 1.2 million in sales on the way to marking over 4 million units moved, but this was two years ago before music streaming took over in earnest. Others are wondering if Swift moving from country to pop will put a dent in her sales from loyal country fans.
Also interesting, and something that has gone virtually unreported is that Borchetta recently dropped his moratorium on releasing albums to Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming service until after a certain time period. “We’re not putting the brand-new releases on Spotify,” Borchetta told Rolling Stone near the release of Taylor Swift’s Red in 2012. “Why shouldn’t we learn from the movie business? They have theatrical releases, cable releases. There are certain tiers. If we just throw out everything we have, we’re done.” But recent Big Machine releases from Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line were available immediately on Spotify. So far, Swift’s 1989 released officially on 10-27 has not surfaced on the streaming service, though her first single “Shake It Off” is available. The Spotify quotient could cause cause Swift’s album sales numbers to be more robust compared to other 2014 releases that went straight to streaming.
Another question appears to be the standing of both Scott Borchetta and Taylor Swift in the greater country community. Swift leaving country may have ruffled the feathers of Big Machine’s Music Row bunk mates who also may fill the roster of prospective buyers. Meanwhile Borchetta has been making waves of his own on Music Row, with his aggressive practices angering some in the business. Borchetta tends to play by his own rules as opposed to the unspoken writs of the Music Row oligarchy. His big deals with iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) on radio play rights, Cumulus Media with NASH Icon, producer Dr. Luke with writing and production work, and similar deals have Borchetta running circles around his Nashville competition, and leaving some with a sour taste.
The Big Machine Label Group was founded by President and CEO Scott Borchetta in 2005 after he left DreamWorks Records, and includes the subsidiary labels Valory Music Group, Dot Records, NASH Icon, and a joint venture with Universal Republic Records, Republic Records Nashville. The label began as a partnership with Toby Keith, but Keith dropped his affiliation with Big Machine in 2006 to start his own Show Dog-Universal label. Keith still owns a stake in Big Machine however, and this is one of the reasons he remains the highest-paid entertainer in country music. Taylor Swift’s father, Scott Swift, also owns a stake in Big Machine. Taylor Swift was Big Machine’s first signing.
Forget that now the last six Toby Keith singles in a row very heavily involve drinking— that’s “Beers Ago,” “Red Solo Cup,” “Hope on the Rocks,” “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” and “Drinks After Work” for those of you counting at home—this is a song with a message dammit!
I can just hear this thing playing in the background as superimposed stomping Budweiser Clydesdales go trailing off into the ether, while the foreground fills with a Dallas Cowboys fan and a Washington Redskins fan hugging it out in slo mo while their brats burn on the tailgate-sized barbecue during an instant replay television timeout. Because no matter what our differences, no matter our disparate backgrounds, our differing beliefs, our skin color, sexual persuasion, or even our choice of headgear, we can all come together and enjoy the splendid beauty of American over-consumption and the chronic addictions it breeds.
“Drunk Americans” from a musical standpoint is a swaying sea chanty of a pub singalong whose catchiness and anthemic nature is questionable enough to make you wonder if its desired effect of getting an entire bar room singing in unison will ever be realized, let alone if radio programmers will give it any more than a strong sniff simply because of whose name is attached to it. Hats off for the inclusion of banjo and even accordion in this song, but “Drunk Americans” is still songwriting by committee and formula, relying on the often-trodden out trope of juxtaposed opposites shoved together to create contrast that however witty in places, still feels a bit tired, to where not even a key change 2/3rds of the way through really gives you hope that this song will stick in any significant way in the craw of the American zeitgeist. Then again this is America, and as has been proven time and time again, success can be bought.
This song is not bad. There’s certainly worse. But what makes it a little difficult to stomach is this idyllic, hopeful picture it paints of the American reality that is so far off the mark, it is the equivalent of taking your bar dart, aiming for the bullseye, but landing it in the eye of some unlucky patron stumbling out of the men’s room. Sorry, but America is as polarized, untrusting, and closed-minded of its fellow citizens as it has ever been in its history save for The Civil War, especially when disturbed minds become even more lubricated by the aid of alcoholic libations. America in the fall of 2014 is the virtual equivalent to a bar brawl—from the suburbs of St. Louis, to state houses, to football stadiums, to country music concerts. We’re all pissed off at people who are different from us.
I understand that the hope is a song like this will open people’s eyes and inspire them to set aside differences, but the deep problem here is that this song is acting like this is the current reality, as opposed what should be yearned for. Yes, reactionary polarization is tearing the American ideal apart at the seams, and anyone who attempts to take up a contrary position to this trend should be commended. But attempting to veil this message in alcohol, like the spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down, is both transparent and ineffective. We hate each other, and instead of truly working to resolving this issue, “Drunk Americans” simply reminds us of the fact that we’re a 50/50 nation scribbling Hitler mustaches on any one who may disagree with us, and seeking out media that simply reinforces our one-sided reality-tunneled perspectives. And let’s not forget our raging alcohol problem.
“Drunk Americans” was written by hot independent/traditional songwriting commodity Brandy Clark, and her regular sidekick and songwriting genius Shane McAnally, along with Bob DiPiero. Brandy says about the song, “You see that title and you think, ‘Oh, it’s a drinking song,’ which it is, but I hope that people can listen to it and see that it’s really an American song.” That is, unless you’re an American that doesn’t drink, which is roughly 1/3 of the population, many of which had previous problems with the sauce, or are banned from doing so by edict from the bench. That is what’s so great about the classic version of the country drinking song. By looking at both sides of the drinking coin, not just the party time aspect, country music truly built a universal consensus in the listener through shared experiences. Now country music has become a vehicle for the same polarization this song attempts to decry.
The approach of this song feels somewhat like “Follow Your Arrow” 2.0, or a different version of Garth’s misguided “People Loving People.” It is trying to save the world through song, so it’s hard to fault it too harshly. But how about simply feeling a human emotion, and then expressing that through song without the taint of rewrites and tweaks over Skype sessions to craft a song into something commercially accessible? Whatever soul this song has feels drained, the chorus and melody feel a little flat, and unfortunately I’m just not hearing the catchiness it would take to even be a big commercial hit.
“Drunk Americans” tries to be sobering, but it’s kind of just a drunken mess.
- – - – - – - – - -
1 1/4 of 2 Guns Down.
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.”
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.”
- – - – - – - – - -
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.
— 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. — Ashley Hughes (@AshleyHughes96) September 14, 2014
99% sure Toby Keith was drunk tonight….not the best concert
— Zac Coons (@zaccoons) September 14, 2014
Wow was Toby Keith drunk tonight !! — John Collins (@JohnCollins911) September 14, 2014
So Toby Keith was terrible…he was so drunk u couldn’t understand the words..
— CaSEy RoTE (@casey_mikel) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith, not worth it. Was drunk on stage, sounded terrible. — Charlie Duffy (@Charlie_Duffy32) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith’s so drunk rn 😂
— Kennedy Trendelman (@k_e_n_98) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith is so drunk, he forgot the lines to my favorite song. 😞😢 — Katelyn (@ML4everKatie) September 14, 2014
— Emily Schafer (@emilyelizabeths) September 14, 2014
Toby Keith is more drunk than the crowd right now — 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.
— 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?
— Kari Woehler (@hoosiercubby) September 14, 2014
@TobyKeithMusic this is disappointing. Paid a lot for these tickets and he is too drunk to sing.
— 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, “Here you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?”
Jackson’s response was, “Well, I love Hank, and a fan…I 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, ‘I’m gonna wear it for my song,’ you know, ‘Gone Country.’ Hank’s country.”
3. Protesting The Backing Track on the 1994 ACM Awards
The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jackson’s 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 “Gone Country”, Alan Jackson couldn’t 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 Jackson’s drummer, swinging his arms like he’s 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 wasn’t a “baby act” as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top”, cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices”.
‘‘We were all so nervous,” Alan Jackson later recalled. “The guitarist had this solo in the middle of ”Pop a Top’, 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 ‘Choices’. ”
As you can see in the video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jones’ 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 über 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 Year – “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 Allen – acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
- Scott Coney – acoustic guitar, tic tac bass, banjo
- Robbie Flint – steel guitar
- Danny Groah – lead guitar
- Ryan Joseph – fiddle, harmony vocals
- Bruce Rutherford – drums
- Joey Schmidt – keyboards
- Roger Wills – 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, “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:
“Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.
“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.
“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.
“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”
“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, “Don’t say a word.” Then his eyes found me. “You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?” he whispered.
I shook my head.
“They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”
- – - – - – - – - -
Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ‘em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.
In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: ”I have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie’s birthday party — least of all to Toby Keith, (if that’s who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”
As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.
But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.
Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.
Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?
This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,
“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.” Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.
Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.
I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.
Because of Garth’s massive success, there’s a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.
It’s a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those people’s success excuses our meanness.
Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece. In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.
Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,
Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I don’t know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We don’t really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?
Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.
Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.
Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …
The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …
My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.
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, ‘Let’s just throw a hand grenade in the room right off the get-go.’” 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 very “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.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
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, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t 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 it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and shit.’”
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 ‘Get Drunk and Be Somebody’ and in the middle of it this guy, who’s supposed to be a no-nonsense, stand-up kind of guy, goes, ‘Hey, I’m not asking for an ass-whipping here . . . ’ 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 don’t know, and critique their music. That’s not right and I won’t do it. We don’t bring a bunch of hate to the table.”
- – - – - – - – - – - -
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 fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . . like when guys like Randy Travis released songs like ‘He Walked on Water’ – songs that meant something, man!”
Now he’s back at it as his single “Days of Gold” climbs the country charts, telling Country Weekly,
I don’t mean to sound negative. I love country music right now, it’s awesome. But I’m guilty of it, too. We all have songs that we’re tending to put out because they’re working and it’s helping our careers. But songs like ‘The Thunder Rolls’ or John Michael Montgomery’s ‘Life’s a Dance,’ they were songs that meant something to people. You don’t hear a lot of those songs anymore….People were like, that’s real. There are so many songs now, and I have them, too, that are [about] sunshine, blue eyes, a tan. That’s not always real to everyone all the time. Or passing moonshine jars around. People do that when they’re kids, but people also grow up. . . . It’s 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. “It has to come out at some point. It’s 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 it’s OK that radio will play songs—hopefully—like that, to where they’ll start recording really great songs again.”
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 ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and shit.’”
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. She’s the only one that didn’t 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.”
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 every 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.
- – - – - – - – - – -
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. 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, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit? Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?’” 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 it’s cool to step out and do something like that, I just don’t think it’s cool to make a living doing that….It’s cool to step out and do some R&B stuff. It’s cool to step out and do some rock stuff. It’s cool to do traditional country. But at the end of the day if you’re gonna be a country artist, I don’t 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 wasn’t a diss as much as a do what you do, but get in your zone if you’re
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: “War’s over guys, pray to Jesus!”
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 it’s turned into? No, not all the way. It’s 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. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?
But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m 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 don’t want to rail on about country because I don’t really know much about it, but that’s 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 – nobody cares! It’s not fun to listen to. I thought dubstep was cool for two seconds - 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. It’s 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:
“The country format is more pop than pop was when I came up two decades ago,”
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Alan Jackson said:
“Right now, it seems like it’s gone. It’s not that I’m against all that’s out there. There’s some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but there’s really no country stuff left. It’s always been that constant pop-country battle. I don’t think it’s 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 don’t know if it’ll ever be back on mainstream radio. You can’t 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:
“You know, I would say no. I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I don’t feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channel’s and the Cumulus’s and the big companies bought up all the chains, now it’s about a demographic. You know, so they’ve 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. We’ve sort of ended up in this…we’re nicknamed the soccer mom, like 35 to 45 year-old woman I think is what our demographic is. So it’s 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 you’ve got to leave it there for a second to figure it out…. To me, country music is still Monday through Friday, and pop’s about what happens on the weekends.”
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 of 93.7 JR FM in Vancouver, Canada, Zac Brown said:
“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve 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, I’m gonna throw up. There’s 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. There’s been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and it’s 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 there’s money involved, then you figure out what’s going to bring in sponsors, and what’s going to resonate with people and what’s going to sell records….I’d 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 fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . . [like] when guys like Randy Travis released songs like ‘He Walked on Water’ – songs that meant something, man!”
When speaking to Country Weekly about country rap, Toby Keith said:
“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t 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 it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and sh-t.’”
- – - – - – - – - -
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, ‘Is 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 what’s going on the radio today.”
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, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that,” potentially dissing Toby Keith’s hit “Red Solo Cup.” 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 it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and shit.’”
So does that mean we can expect Toby Keith to go the country rap route? “I don’t know how to do that,” Keith explains. “I’m not going to change much. And when it quits working, I’ve got other stuff to do.” 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.
Support SCM and start
your Amazon shopping here
- Brian on Album Review – Cody Johnson’s “Cowboy Like Me”
- Martin100 on Curb to Release Hank III Album “Take As Needed For Pain”
- the pistolero on Album Review – Cody Johnson’s “Cowboy Like Me”
- RollieB on The Big Lessons of Sturgill Simpson’s Success
- Martin100 on Hank Williams Jr. Could Be Next NASH Icon Artist