- Wade Bowen Performs "When I Woke Up Today" on The Texas Music Scene
- Variety Magazine Talks to Merle Haggard
- Hear New Andrew Combs' Song "Foolin'"
- Ian McLagan of Faces and Small Faces Dies
- Stream Sundy Best's New Record
- Willie Nelson Releases New Album "December Day"
- Aaron Watson to Release New Album "The Underdog" February 17th
- Almost Out of Gas Features the Taylor Cafe in Taylor, TX
- Sundy Best Release New Album "Salvation City"
- Despite Detractors, Bro-Country May Be a Bellwether of Nashville's Future
- Funny: Where Did Jerrod Niemann Go?
- Courtney Patton Sings "Take Your Shoes Off Moses"
- Bobby Keys, Hard-Living Saxophonist for Rolling Stones, Dies at 70
- New Photos of Johnny Cash at San Quentin Prison
- Music Industry Sues Chrysler, Mitsubishi Over In Car Recording Devices
- The Huffington Post Lists Off Best 2014 Country Albums
- Dom Flemons, 'Too Long (I've Been Gone)' Video
- Lyric Of The Week, Mickey Newbury, "An American Trilogy"
- Joni Mitchell Squashed Biopic Starring Taylor Swift
- Black Friday: Country Bibliophile Edition
- Blurt Gives Jason Isbell's ACL DVD 5 of 5 Stars
Each year when Saving Country Music sits down to compile the best songs, it’s done so with a solemn reverence and understanding that the idea embedded in a song has the power to change a life, and change the world. There are many songs out there that are a joy to listen to, but a Song of the Year must say something that can evoke shivers, and do so in a way nobody else has done before.
Parker Milsap had an excellent song this year called “Truck Stop Gospel,” and Jim Lauderdale‘s “I Lost You” pound for pound may be the most enjoyable song released all year. Willie Watson had numerous songs like “Mexican Cowboy” and “Keep It Clean” that while not originals, had the energy and approach of ones. There were epics like Joseph Huber‘s “Wanchese & Manteo,” or great performances like The Secret Sisters‘ “The Lonely Island.” But the nine songs below stood out from the rest in Saving Country Music’s humble opinion.
Audience participation is strongly encouraged, and will influence the outcome. Leave your opinions, write-in candidates, or other observations below in the comments section. This is not simply an up and down vote though. I make the final decision, so it is your job to convince me why the album you feel deserves to win is the right pick. The winner will be chosen in about a month.
Don Williams – “I’ll Be Here In The Morning” – from Reflections
Townes Van Zandt and Don Williams team up to deliver one of the most disarming performances of 2014, taking a timeless composition, and bringing it to life again through an immortal voice. The warmth this performance coveys is astounding, and as can be seen in the video, it was recorded live. Great song from a great album. (read review)
Lydia Loveless – “Everything’s Gone” – from Somewhere Else
“Everything’s Gone” is Lydia’s crowning achievement thus far in her career, showing remarkable insight, and delivering a vocal performance that fills as much emotion as humanly possible into the vessel of a story—any more and it would fall apart under its own weight.
“Lord now I’m sick of seeing the fear in my family’s eyes. I need to find the man who put it there and set his life on fire.”
Ray Benson & Willie Nelson – “It Ain’t You” - from A Little Piece
Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines.
What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth. “It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. (read full review)
Tami Neilson – “Cry Over You” – from Dynamite!
It is said often that there’s no more standard songs being released that will withstand the test of time. Well Tami Neilson just released one, and punctuated it with a timeless vocal performance.
Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down” – from Metamodern Sounds
A polarizing song from its seeming questioning of faith and drug laws, “Turtles All The Way Down” speaks to the very core of what the Sturgill Simpson experience is all about: a forward-thinking, challenging approach to enhancing the senses by marking a crossroads between traditional country and a progressive approach.
Leon Virgil Bowers – “Streets of Aberdeen” – from LV
Leon Virgil Bowers (formerly of Hellbound Glory) continues to be America’s most undervalued songwriter, and someday the rest of the world is going to wake up to that fact. While Virgil is known most for his strong wit, weaving moments in songs that touch your heart and funny bone at the same time, this exploration of more in-depth storytelling by Leroy was a big success. And only appropriate that the song and video was cut in Aberdeen, in a building with ties to the story. (read more)
Hurray for the Riff Raff – “The Body Electric” -from Small Town Heroes
The legacy of the murder ballad is one of the very building blocks of country, bluegrass, and folk music, and never before has an artist taken that primordial idea and conveyed so much while saying very little. It awakens the defiance in the female condition, as an array of thoughts flow through the listener.
First Aid Kit – “Waitress Song” – from Stay Gold
First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold on any other year might be the album everyone is talking about, and in certain segments of the folk and Americana world, it still is. No album can top it in 2014 when it comes to harmonies and melody building, and it’s hard to pinpoint just one song where this is evidenced the best. But even amongst the towering compositions of the album like “My Silver Lining” and “Cedar Lane,” “The Waitress Song” is the one I kept coming back to. A strange song from the usually serious and regal Söderberg sisters, it starts off playful and silly with it’s fluttering “girls just want to have fun” line, but reveals later a lot of life truths and deep perspective swirling around the idea of walking away from ones self and starting over.
“It’s a dark, twisted road we are on. And we all have to walk it alone.”
Matt Woods – “Liberty Bell” – from Brushy Mountain
The question going into Matt Woods’ new album With Love From Brushy Mountain was if he could he match the magic he evoked in his song “Deadman’s Blues” that went on to win him Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year in 2013. The answer turned out to be “yes,” and the best evidence might be this soul-wrenching song that matches “Deadman’s Blues” punch for punch.
Songwriter, Sirius XM DJ, and country music elder Roger Alan Wade will release his sixth studio album Bad News Knockin’ via Johnny Knoxville Records on December 16th, 2014. Produced by Knoxville and recorded by Dan Creech at Revolving Blackbird Sound in Santa Monica, CA, like most of Wade’s music the new album will feature just Roger, his guitar, and his original songs. Johnny Knoxville and Wade host the weekly Big Ass Happy Family Jubilee on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country together.
“He inspires me constantly and he’s a tough taskmaster,” Roger said recently about Johnny Knoxville as producer on the Otis Gibbs Thanks For Giving A Damn podcast. “He’ll put up with anything as long as he knows you’re giving it your all. If he thinks you’re slacking man he’s got too much to do to waste his time. I love the way we make records…The only way we know when it’s good is when Knoxville gets chill bumps. Otherwise you keep it going. But if you do it one time and he gets chill bumps, don’t ask to do it again.”
Roger Alan Wade and Johnny Knoxville are first cousins, and Knoxville regularly features Wade’s humor-tinged songs in his movies. But when it comes to his studio albums, Wade can get deadly serious, and draws inspiration from songwriters like Guy Clark, John Prine, and Kris Kristofferson. His 2010 record DeGuello Motel won Saving Country Music 2010 Album of the Year, and his 2012 album Southbound Train was another standout songwriting effort.
“Beige cubicles spook me man,” Wade said to Otis Gibbs about Music Row’s current songwriting environment. “There’s so much about that I don’t understand. I’m not knocking it, I’m not making any judgements. I’m just saying it don’t work for me. Man I like writing them on the run. I like finding that place, wherever it may be, that you’re just holding the pen and it’s coming through you…I strive to be as honest with myself and others, especially when it comes down to asking them to listen to my song. If they’re going to give me three minutes of their life, I want them to know what’s on my mind, and what’s in my heart. And I’m not asking them to agree with me or like it, but you are telling them that it comes with one guarantee, that it’s honest. It may suck, but it’s honest.”
A fixture of the Chattanooga music scene, Wade has written songs recorded by George Jones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and the #1 song by Hank Williams Jr. “Country State of Mind.”
Bad News Knockin’ Track List:
- Bad News Knockin’
- Blame It All on the Roses
- Lonesome Sunday Blues
- Waitin’ on the Hummingbird
- The Ballad of Shine Marley
- Warm Spanish Wine
- Georgia Blues
- Yellow House in the Country
- Years Ago
- Things I Benn Blamed For
- I Lived the Life
- Red Shoes Blues
- Peace of Mind
The feud between country music Outlaw legend Waylon Jennings and country superstar Garth Brooks has been well-documented and talked about over the years. Though a lot of rumor and conjecture tend to cloud the conversation, we do know that Waylon’s dislike for Garth, who was coming up just as Waylon’s career was hitting a sharp decline, was very real. Whether the quote is real or not that is often attributed to Waylon about a certain type of foreplay and how Garth was the equivalent to pantyhose getting in the way of it, there was undoubtedly some animosity between the two country stars.
During an appearance late last week on Broadway’s Electric Barnyard show on Country 92.5 out of Connecticut, the DJ asked Garth point blank about the feud. One of the reason’s Broadway does such good interviews is because he asks the questions many other DJ’s are too scared to ask. But as opposed to getting angry, the artists usually find the questions refreshing after being asked about the same subjects over and over that only scratch the surface. “You know your stuff, I’m enjoying this,” Garth said to Broadway.
When Broadway asked Garth if he’d ever met Waylon or talked to him about the feud, Garth responded,
No, never met Mr. Jennings. And for some reason man, I guess I was the guy that he targeted. You know, it’s kind of weird because all the people [that are the reason] why I’m in the business, those people say the reason THEY were in the business was Waylon. So everyone loves him, he’s a legend, and I just kind of let it go. I never knew what to say.
Yeah, I was definitely the guy that he targeted (laughing). And it’s funny kinda being the non traditionalist then, and now everyone looks at [me] like, ‘Your stuff is as country as it gets.’ So that’s kind of a weird view. It was tough for me because he was a country legend and for some reason I was the guy that got the brunt of it. I never took it that personal. I just think he was addressing the different sound in country music and the changing of the guard. That’s tough for anybody to handle. The guy’s a legend and deserves nothing but respect.
The artists Garth appears to be referring to as the people who were inspired by Waylon that went on to inspire him would likely be big Garth influences Keith Whitley and Chris LeDoux.
Garth also talked about how his new single is going to be “Mom,” which he calls more traditional than some of the other singles he could pick from his new album. He also talked about up-and-coming performer/songwriter Caitlyn Smith who wrote one of the most critically-acclaimed songs on Garth’s new record, “Tacoma.”
“She’s the bomb. The thing that hurts her in town is that nobody can sing as good as she can. So it’s like, you hear her demos and you want your record to sound like that. But good luck. That girl’s talented.”
The Garth vs. Waylon debate is an ongoing one, and one of those country music discussions people love to take sides on. It will probably continue on as long as both men’s music does, but according to Garth, the feud was one sided. And then there’s the quotes from Waylon’s autobiography:
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.
Listen to the Garth Brooks interview:
Some will tell you that when you get to the very top of Texas country it becomes difficult to tell the difference between it and Nashville. It’s true that with your foremost Texas acts like Eli Young Band, Randy Rogers Band, Josh Abbot Band, and Wade Bowen, there’s an element of pragmatism to their sound. Texas country has traditionalism plenty covered with artists like Aaron Watson and Jason Eady, but some of the bands will mix a fair bit of rock and roll flair into their music, and worry more about captivating an audience than capturing strict interpretations of country music’s traditions.
This however is not necessarily a knock on them. This in itself is a tradition of Texas country that can be traced back to Willie and Waylon. Some country artists who happen to be born in Texas leave for Nashville as soon as they can and never look back, and those are the ones who quickly become synonymous with Nashville instead of the Lone Star State. Others can’t stay gone from Texas no matter how hard they try. The suits in Nashville have just enough sense to understand that something truly special is going on in Texas and that they want to be a part of it, just like a lot of Texas acts know that to bust through the corrugated tin roof of Texas country, at some point you have to make the dreaded trek to Music Row.
I-40 is well-grooved with the rubber of Texas country acts coming and going. You’ll have a band try their hand at the Nashville thing, like the Josh Abbot Band, and meanwhile another is calling it quits and heading back home, like Wade Bowen. They meet up at a Chinese buffet in Little Rock and swap stories about pencil pushers who beat themselves up trying to tame the wanton talent of Texas with only marginal success. Texas country artists are nice enough to give anything a shot with an open mind, but stubborn enough to refuse to be pigeonholed. It’s the perfect formula to drive Music Row completely mad. But they’ll keep trying, because Texas artists are the ones with the authenticity they yearn for.
Wade Bowen tried his hand with the big boys, specifically BNA Records with his 2012 release The Given. It brought him a Top 10 country album, which is a career achievement he can be happy with. But now he’s back releasing albums independently. Almost as a playful parting shot of his experience with the big time, Bowen released a track called “Songs About Trucks” written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally ahead of this new album. Antagonistic and timely, it took Bowen’s star and made it shine even brighter. It was assumed (at least in some corners) the song was the lead single from this new album, but Bowen was wise to keep it off and leave it out there as its own animal. The acrimonious nature of “Songs About Trucks,” though justified and poignant, doesn’t really fit the mood and spirit of this project.
Ahead of this self-titled release, the buzz was immense. There was a sense this wasn’t going to be simply another Wade Bowen album—that his experiences of the last few years helped Wade see himself for who he really is, instead of who everyone else wants him to be.
Two songs in, and this album already delivers on any promises and expectations preceding it. “When I Woke Up Today” written by Bowen and Rodney Clawson is the type of song nobody has the balls to record anymore; songs that are both deep and sunny. And Bowen has something that trend chasers can never top, which is an established sound that immediately upon hearing it fills the listener with a warmth of familiarity. You pop this record in, and you’re immediately swept over by a change of perspective like the opening song portrays.
This is followed by “Sun Shines on a Dreamer” and a very similar mood-enhancing effect. Not just the lyrics, but the drums and bass on this song really emphasize the natural tension and resolution of the tune. Excellent arrangement and good writing makes this song one of the top standouts of the project. This album is marked by some really big songs—songs that tend go on to define a career. Yet another is the waltz-timed and mood heavy “West Texas Rain.” Count it amongst Wade’s greatest, written by Bowen with Travis Meadows.
Where you get into the material that some may say strays too near a commercial mindset, you come to a song like the up-tempo and rocking “When It’s Reckless” with its screaming guitar solos and rambunctious attitude. A couple of songs—”My California” and “Hungover”—take a smooth, almost R&B approach in the production, even though the heart of the story could still be considered a country song. The more country offerings are the solid “My Leona,” the aforementioned “West Texas Rain,” and one of the funnest moments of the album, “Honky Tonk Road,” which sees Randy Rogers, Cody Canada, and Sean McConnell each sing a verse. Other special guests on the album include Will Hoge on “When It’s Reckless” (which he co-wrote with Bowen), Sarah Buxton on “California,” and Vince Gill on “West Texas Rain.”
Releasing a self-titled album seven albums deep into your career is making a statement. “This is me,” Wade Bowen is saying, and with a cadre of great songs turned in on this album, “me” in regards to Wade Bowen is something worth listening to.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
- – - – - – - – - – - -
Congratulations Justin Moore and Outlaws Like Me, you’re officially off the hot seat. Because right here, right now, I am unilaterally declaring that Florida Georgia Line’s new album Anything Goes is the worst album ever released in the history of country music. Ever. Including Florida Georgia Line’s first album Here’s To The Good Times, including anything else you can muster from the mainstream, including a 4-track recording made by a head trauma victim in a walk-in closet with a Casiotone keyboard and an out-of-tune banjo. Anything Goes can slay all comers when it comes to its heretofore unattainable degree of peerless suckitude.
In a word, this album is bullshit. Never before has such a refined collection of strident clichés been concentrated in one insidious mass. Never before have the lyrics to an album evidenced such narrowcasted pseudo-mindless incoherent drivel. Never before have such disparate and diseased influences been married so haphazardly in a profound vacuum of taste, and never have all of these atrocities been platooned together to be proffered to the public without someone, anyone with any bit of conscience and in a position of power putting a stop to this poisoning of the listening public.
Not to get all old man on your ass, but most of the time I don’t even understand what the hell these dudes are saying. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have their own language, partial to the most grammatically-challenged and stupefying vocabulary lurking in the dankest sewers of the English dialect, but not residing firmly in any specific one of them so no truly proper translation can be obtained. It’s like Pig Latin for douchewads—understood by them and them only. And only with the perfect deficiency of brain cells will their concoction of Ebonics, metrosexual douche speak, and stagnant gene pool rural jargon become anything resembling coherent to the human ear.
Forget the already ultra-concentrated and extremely-narrow breadth of modern mainstream country music’s laundry list songwriting legacy, Florida Georgia Line has devised a way to inexplicably make it even more attenuated and terrible. “Girl, alcoholic beverage, truck, river or lake”— that’s pretty much the alpha and omega of the Anything Goes building blocks. Most of these songs have more songwriters than they do basic lyrical themes, with an average of four cooks per diarrhetic serving, and one song that boasts five songwriters and still struggles to pen anything that comes close to a complete sentence or a comprehensible thought.
Shiny objects and fire also seem to excite and distract Florida Georgia Line and fill them with a profound sense of wonder, and so soliloquies to these things also show up occasionally, as does the word “good.” They really like that word.“Got on my smell good. Got a bottle of feel good. Shined up my wheels good. You’re looking real good.”
That verse pretty much sums up this entire album. And no, these are not lyrics to the song that is actually titled “Good Good.” Needless to say, any moments involving depth, sorrow, self-reflection, doubt, or evolved thinking in any capacity have been unceremoniously scrubbed from this project entirely, save for one song, “Dirt,” which only works to anger the blood even more because it proves that these morons are capable of so much more. A song like “Sippin’ On Fire” tries to cobble together some semblance of a love story, but bogs down like all these songs do in focusing on the material objects and consumables inadvertently on hand in situations instead of the honest sentiments being felt between two people. Women and “love” are compared to alcoholic beverages and other material objects, and vice versa more times than I care to count on this album, as if they are interchangeable in stature in the human experience.
Another song that would have been decent if only Florida Georgia Line didn’t figure out how to screw it up is “Bumpin’ The Night.” Despite the title alluding to the listener being in store for yet another demonstration of shallowness, the song displays a compositional depth that is both surprising and enriching, even though what passes for steel guitar is so transmogrified by the EDM production, it’s hardly noticeable. There’s nothing wrong with fun, feel good songs themselves. But in such a void of anything striking even close to variety, an otherwise decent song like “Bumpin’ The Night” suffers demonstrably amongst its peers.
And talk about going to the cliché well too many times, there’s a song on this album called “Angel” that I kid you not is built around the often sarcastically-used pick up line “Did it hurt when you fell from the sky?” Any woman who hears this line coming from any man has my personal blessing to immediately spray them in the face with mace and knee them in the nuts. The idea that these knuckleheads think that this line is “sweet” just speaks to the depravity of self-awareness they suffer from in an irrevocable degree.
There really is a toxic concentration of bad songs on Anything Goes, and it is all punctuated on the final track “Every Night” where the hyper-everything that riddles this album somehow gets heightened even more as Florida Georgia Line explain they don’t need the weekend because every night for them is a wild, raging good time. This personifies the diabolical sameness of this album, where it’s just a contiguous string of carefree party references and virtually nothing else, almost throwing caution to the wind and daring fate to make a mockery of this project over the long perspective of time, if they’re not openly cashing out on the franchise in the face of the obvious dying of a trend.
I would call it country rap, but even that would give this album more definition than it truly carries. I would call it pop, but even that world would not stand for such vacuousness. And once again the listener is left steadfastly perplexed at what Brian Kelley (the short-haired one) actually does in this band beyond singing one verse of “Dirt” and a few random backup lines so heavily Auto-tuned you can’t tell for sure it’s him.
Everybody knows where Florida Georgia Line is going to lead. Scott Borchetta must know it. Their producer Joey Moi, formerly of Nickelback must know it. Their manager Kevin Zaruk, also formerly of Nickelback, apparently knows it, and admitted as much in a recent Billboard interview. “It’s bizarre because I know so many people who say they can’t stand them but listen to Nickelback and go to their shows. This is a band that sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise, and to this day, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a person with a Nickelback T-shirt on walking the streets anywhere in the world. I don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason it became cool to hate Nickelback, and once that trend took off, it exploded. What I’ve definitely talked to [FGL’s] Brian [Kelley] and Tyler [Hubbard] about is that whenever anybody becomes successful in any business, there’s people that get jealous.”
This is the problem. Florida Georgia Line and their fans will read a review like this, and truly believe that jealousy and nothing else is at the heart of the criticism, and will point to their “success” as proof of this. But Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Strait, and so many more were wildly successful in their time too, and also faced criticism, but never to the degree of criticism Florida Georgia Line is faced with. The music of these legends withstood the test of time, while artists like Nickelback, Billy Ray Cyrus, New Kids On The Block, and MC Hammer were also wildly successful in their time, but now their music is nowhere to be seen besides as a novelty, or listened to as irony or nostalgia.
It is Florida Georgia Line’s destiny to go down as a laughing stock, to be the next Nickelback, where their fans hide their T-shirts and shun them, tearing them down just as vehemently and quickly as they artificially propped them up. Their sophomore album and a song like “Dirt” was their one opportunity to change that destiny and be known for something more. But instead they super concentrated what makes them bad as either a last cash-grabbing hurrah, or as a misguided miscalculation that their polarizing nature is due to the insecurities of others instead of a true concern about substance and sustainability. Point to current attendance numbers and call the haters jealous all you want. All one has to do is point to Nickelback as an example of why this doesn’t work in the long term.
Florida Georgia Line and Anything Goes are an embarrassment to country music.
Two Guns Way Down!
This past weekend from October 9th thru 12th was the inaugural gathering of Outlaw Fest at Edge Hill Farms in Oakland, Kentucky. Despite passing rain showers throughout the weekend and the linchpin of the festival Marty Shine having a health setback that sidelined him for most of the event, according to festival goers a good time was had by all, and festival sidekick Kenneth Marr made sure the entire presentation went off without a hitch.
Though inclement weather kept Billy Joe Shaver from attending the event as planned, the weekend was packed with “Outlaw” talent which included 3rd generation artists such as Whey Jennings and Raelyn Nelson, modern day headliners like The SteelDrivers and The Dallas Moore Band, and a host of other artists who entertained patrons between rain clouds.
Below is a selection from the over 1,700 pictures taken by Cathy Pippin, aka VintageQueen54 during the weekend.
Vintage Queen is also in the process of loading up videos from the weekend.
Whey Jennings (Grandson of Waylon)
Raelyn Nelson (Granddaughter of Willie Nelson)
The SteelDrivers – Brent Truitt
The Steeldrivers – Tammy Rogers
The SteelDrivers – Gary Nichols
The SteelDrivers - and Mike Fleming and Gary Nichols
The SteelDrivers – Richard Bailey
Master of Ceremonies – Gordon “Big G” Ames
Mr. Bandana & Big G
The Urban Pioneers
2 Country 4 Nashville
Pure Grain – Scott Siefferman
Pure Grain – Michelle D’Amico
JB Beverley of the Wayward Drifters
The Dallas Moore Band
Hank Williams was the greatest country music singer and songwriter to ever walk the face of the Earth. And if you don’t believe that, just listen to how his fellow country music performers feel about his contributions to the music. Here is a list of the greatest Hank Williams tribute songs of all time.
- The song has to be a true Hank tribute from stem to stern, not just mention Hank.
- The song has to be mostly about Hank, meaning no “Hank & Lefty” because that’s about both men equally (but still a good song).
- This is not meant to be an absolute unabridged and unequivocally complete master list of Hank tributes without one single omission. If you see a worthy Hank tribute not mentioned, by all means, please share, because that is the point of this, NOT to be a “Where’s Waldo?” exercise where people go combing through looking for missing songs so you can navigate to the comments and bust my chops with comments that start with “You forgot…” and end with “…this site is completely illegitimate” just because I forgot to mention some unpublished Hank tribute from a local singer in your town. The point is to hopefully to be exposed to a few new songs that will entertain you as a Hank fan.
- No order to these songs is intended or implied. Because this could stretch on forever, I tried to prioritize certain songs. But they are all great Hank tributes.
“Hank Williams’ Ghost” – Darrell Scott
Off of Darrell Scott’s 2006 album Invisible Man, the song went on to be nominated for the 2007 Song of the Year by the Americana Music Awards. Excellent video as well with many Hank Williams landmarks featured.
“Hank’s Cadillac” – Ashley Monroe
Written by Ashley Monroe at the tender age of 17, “Hank’s Cadillac” is Ashley attesting she would have figured out a way to keep Hank alive if she had been on his now famous “Last Ride.”
“If He Came Back Again” – The Highwaymen
Though this song was recorded to be included on the final Highwaymen album The Road Goes On Forever, it didn’t make the final cut initially. However when the album was re-issued, it was finally released, and today it remains one of the album’s most popular tracks and a beautiful tribute, despite the somewhat wonky harmonies in the chorus by the cantankerous Highwaymen. Written by Barry Alfonso and Craig Bickhardt.
“Talkin’ To Hank” – Mark Chesnutt
“I saw a shotgun and a guitar and a six-pack of beer
A sign on the front door said ‘Guess, who lives here’
An old red bone hound that looked older than time
And an old man that’s sure he was only twenty-nine”
Released in 1992, the original album version featured George Jones on guest vocals. Written by Bobby Harden.
“Long White Cadillac” – Dwight Yoakam & Dave Alvin
Originally written by Dave Alvin of The Blasters, while Dwight Yoakam was on tour opening for the band early in his career, he heard the song and recorded it himself in 1989.
“Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life” – Moe Bandy
The title track off of Moe Bandy’s 1976 album, it was written by Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame inductee Paul Craft. One of the most recognizable Hank tributes.
“The Ride” – David Allan Coe
Arguably the most chilling tribute to Hank, co-writer Gary Gentry once told Billboard, “There’s a mysterious magic connected with this song that spells cold chills, leading me to believe that it was meant to be and that David Allan Coe was meant to record it.” He swears when he went to look up the date of when Hank Williams died while writing the song, he opened the book to the exact page where the date was found, and that once when performing the song at the Grand Ole Opry House, as soon as he said the name “Hank” in the last verse, the lights and power went out in the building. “The Ride” was also written by J.B. Detterline Jr., and was released by David Allan Coe in February of 1983. It is also one of the most commercially-successful Hank tributes, coming in at #4 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
“Midnight in Montgomery” – Alan Jackson
Another commercially-successful Hank tribute hit, it tells the story of Alan Jackson visiting the graves of Hank before headlining a New Years Eve show and seeing Hank’s ghost. The song hit #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and Jackson co-wrote the song with Don Sampson. “Midnight in Montgomery” also had a successful video that won the CMA Video of the Year in 1992.
*”The Life Story of Hank Williams” – Hawkshaw Hawkins
As much as a storyteller song as a tribute, it features Hawkshaw Hawkins talking in segments about Hank’s life. It was released in February of 1953, and co-written by Louie Innis. Hankshaw Hawkins would die unexpectedly himself in the same plane crash that killed Patsy Cline on March 5th, 1963.
“The Night Hank Williams Came To Town” – Johnny Cash w/ Waylon Jennings
From 1987′s Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town album produced by Jack Clement.
“The Death of Hank Williams” – Jack Cardwell
This was the very first Hank Williams tribute song ever written. As Hank fan and traditional country performer Joey Allcorn explained to Saving Country Music surrounding the release of his album Midnight: The Death of Hank Williams:
“To me it was an interesting song because it was the very first Hank Williams tribute. Nowadays, doing a Hank Williams tribute is just sort of par for the course. This particular song that we’re centering the project around, it just captures a very basic feeling that happens after some sort of tragic event. The lyrics that are on display [in the museum] tell a similar story, because it was a woman in Montgomery who heard the words on the radio as a child, and they meant so much to her that she wrote them down. If you go to the Hank museum, they’re still sitting there by Hank’s Cadillac. It’s the handwritten lyrics of this little girl wrote after hearing this song, and when she was upset or sad.
Joey Allcorn performing:
“If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” – Kris Kristofferson
Off of Kristofferson’s 1976 Monument recording Surreal Thing, the song was also included on Hank Williams Jr.’s album Habits Old & New in 1980. The song finds Kris Kristofferson in rare form, with a bowed out chest making bold proclamations.
“The Conversation” – Hank Williams Jr. & Waylon Jennings
One of the most unique collaborations in country music history with Ol’ Hank as the conversation piece, it was was released on Hank Jr.’s 1979 album Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound album first, but showed up on Waylon’s Waylon & Company a few years later. “The Conversation”—written by Waylon, Jr., and Waylon’s long-time drummer Ritchie Albright, was one of the very first country music songs to feature a video. It was a Top 15 hit.
“Hank” Jason Boland & The Stragglers
The first song on their 2009 self-titled LP.“You don’t like my music, you don’t like my songs You say you wanna party, you say you wanna rock and roll That carbon copy music don’t mean a damn to me Hank Williams wouldn’t make it now in Nashville, Tennessee”
“Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” – Waylon Jennings
The seminal Hank Williams tribute, and the seminal country music protest song all wrapped up into one. It was released in August of 1975 and became a #1 hit. Not three chords and the truth—two chords and the truth.
• “Hank, It Will Never Be The Same Without You” – Ernest Tubb
• “The Great Hank” – Robert Earl Keen (About Hank in drag)
• “Things Change” – Tim McGraw
• “When You Died At Twenty-Nine” – Slaid Cleaves
• “Alcohol & Pills” – Fred Eaglesmith
• “If Ol’ Hank Could Only See Us Now” – Waylon Jennings
• “Hank Williams Syndrome” – Waylon Jennings
• “Hank’s Song” – Ferlin Husky
• “Tramp On Your Street” – George Jones
• “Rollin’ and Ramblin’” – Emmylou Harris
A Selection of Other Great Hank Williams Tributes:
- “A Tribute to Hank Williams, My Buddy” – Luke McDaniels
- “Hank” – Her Make Believe Band
- “Here’s To Hank” – Stonewall Jackson
- “Hank Williams Sings The Bules No More” – Jimmie Logsdon
- “Hank, You Still Make Me Cry” – Boxcar Willie
- “Hats Off To Hank” – Buzz Carson
- “Hank, You Tried To Tell Me” – Johnny Paycheck
- “I Had A Talk With A Man Last Night” – Vernon Oxford
- “Hank Williams Isn’t Dead” – Duke Denver and Jeffrey Null
- “Hank Williams Will Live Forever” – Johnny and Jack
- “The Night I Met Hank Williams” – Lee Guthrie
- “I Long To Hear Hank Williams Sing The Blues” – Jim Murphy
- “The Life of Hank Williams” – Rick and Thel Carey
- “A Legend Froze in Time” – David Church
- “I Couldn’t Sleep for Thinkin’ Of Hank Williams” – Henry McCullough
- “Everybody Likes a Hank Williams Song” – Tim Hus
- “Curse of Hank” – Tim Hus
- “Ghost of Hank Williams” – Kentucky Headhunters
- “Ghost of Hank Williams” – David Allan Coe
- “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?” – The Waterboys
- “Tribute to Hank Williams” – Tim Hardin
- “Crank The Hank” – Dallas Wayne
- “The Ballad of Hank Williams” – Hank Williams Jr. and Don Helms
- “Ol’ Hank’s Lovesick Blues” – Gary Stewart
- “Daddy (I Need You Tonight)” – Hank Williams Jr.
- “Everybody Wants To Be Hank Williams” – Larry Boone
- “Montgomery In The Rain” – Steve Young (also covered by Hank Jr.)
- “The Car Hank Died In” – The Austin Lounge Lizards
- “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” – Jerry Jeff Walker
- “This Ain’t Montgomery” – Hank III and Joey Allcorn
- “Mission From Hank” – Aaron Tippin
The crown jewel and center of interest at this weekend’s auction of the Waylon Jennings estate at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ was the 1958 Ariel Cyclone motorcycle once owned by Waylon’s mentor Buddy Holly and given to Waylon on his birthday in 1979. Though early reports had the motorcycle not reaching the auction reserve with a bid of $375,000, and other reports said it sold for $450,000, Saving Country Music has confirmed with Guernsey’s Auctioneers that the bike indeed did sell eventually, and for a whopping $457,500.
Though the high bidder currently remains anonymous, Lindsey Heller at Guernsey’s was able to confirm the eventual destination of the bike. “I can tell you that the buyer is from Lubbock, TX, and that it’s his intention to ride it once, and then take it straight to the Buddy Holly Museum and put it on long-term loan.”
Lubbock is Buddy Holly’s hometown and right down the road from Waylon’s hometown of Littlefield. The two music stars met in Lubbock in the 1950′s.
Another item of high interest, Willie Nelson’s braids that he sent to Waylon to celebrate his sobriety, did not go for $37,000 as has been widely reported. They actually sold for $31,250—still a handsome price.
The Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock with its signature thick-rimmed glasses sculpture out front is owned by the City of Lubbock and states its mission as, “Preserving, collecting and promoting the legacy of Buddy Holly and the music of Lubbock and West Texas, as well as providing exhibits on Contemporary Visual Arts and Music, for the purpose of educating and entertaining the public.”
In May of 1958, Buddy Holly and his original Crickets flew in to Dallas’s Love Field airport on a connecting flight back to Lubbock after a big tour.
“They loved Marlon Brando in ‘The Wild One,’ and when they got to Dallas…they decided on the spur of the moment to buy motorcycles and drive back home on them.” Waylon Jennings recalled in his Autobiography. “They took a cab into the city and walked into a Harley-Davidson shop. They had their eyes on a trio of 74-inchers, but the proprietor didn’t think they had any money and treated them like a bunch of bums. ‘Hell, you boys couldn’t even begin to handle the payments on that.’”
“Then they went over to Miller’s Motorcycles, which specialized in English bikes. There, Joe B, and J.I. (Allison) bought a Triumph each, a TR6 and Thunderbird, respectively, while Buddy picked out a maroon and black Ariel Cyclone, with a high compression 650cc Huntsmaster engine. They paid cash, bought matching Levi jackets and peaked caps with wings on them, and rode home through a thunderstorm.”
Buddy Holly’s father had kept the motorcycle until 1970, when he sold it to someone in Austin, TX. Then in 1979 for Waylon’s 42nd birthday, the two remaining Crickets Joe B. and J.I. tracked down the 1959 Ariel Cyclone, bought it back, and had it hand delivered to north Texas where Waylon found it sitting there in the middle of his hotel room after walking off stage that night.
“What else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldn’t mind.”
Home video of Buddy Holly and The Crickets with their new motorcycles:
“Marty Shine” is what many of his friends call him. He’s the owner of the Moonshine Sauce Company who through a series of events over the last year or so has gone from slaving over a hot barbecue pit to playing festival promoter at this weekend’s Outlaw Fest at the Edgehill Farm in Oakland, KY.
Independent-minded artists and fans are already making their way to the inaugural gathering, looking to take in music from headliners like Billy Joe Shaver and The Steeldrivers, and music and stories from 2nd and 3rd generation Outlaws like Waylon Jennings’ son Terry Jennings, his grandson Whey Jennings, and Willie Nelson’s granddaughter Raelyn Nelson. Add on top that legendary songwriters like Billie Gant, up-and-coming stars like the Dallas Moore Band and Josh Morningstar, well-known Texas radio DJ “Big G” Gordon Ames, and Outlaw Fest has a little something of everything from the Outlaw country world.
For a while Marty Shine (aka Martin Bently) had been hauling around his barbecue rig to music festivals and other events when he had an epiphany. Actually, he had a couple of them. The first was that his barbecue sauce made with a kick of moonshine was in such high demand, he didn’t need to worry about the meat portion of the barbecue quotient. Just bottle up the sauce and save the mess. “We just sell sauce because the sauce is bigger than the cooking part of it,” Marty says.
The second epiphany is what led to Outlaw Fest. Marty was attending a festival last year—cooking barbecue and promoting his Moonshine Sauce—when he saw a problem. “I’m sitting there listening to some of the best music in the world and I’m wondering why these guys can’t play a stage like Florida Georgia Line? That was the theory behind the whole thing, that these guys deserve the same treatment that the pop country people get. But at the same token, a lot of these people don’t have the following to draw a crowd, so you add Billy Joe Shaver in there and the Steeldrivers to put more people in there.”
Marty and his Moonshine Sauce weren’t particularly well-known to the Outlaw music crowd when he showed up to the festival last year. But by the end, he knew most of them on a first name basis. “All the other food vendors pulled out and went home because it was 20 degrees. And I stayed. And that automatically made me friends with all of these people, because they actually had food and somebody cared enough to stay. Now did I lose my ass? Of course I did. But good food makes good friends.”
Marty Shine saw the potential these unheralded Outlaw artists had, but knew he had to figure out a way to get people’s attention. “I told Dallas Moore, ‘It’s my job to put asses in seats. It’s your job to make fans out of these people.’ I put the people there, you make them fans. And then next year the other names will draw more people than they did this year.”
The term “Outlaw” carries so much baggage these days, and has been corrupted and misappropriated by Music Row in Nashville so many times it’s hard to count (including the title of a recent title of a Mötley Crüe country tribute album), but Marty believes it’s worth challenging those misnomers by offering up a true example of the Outlaw approach instead of running away from the term. “To me the term ‘Outlaw’ is the epitome of what Waylon Jennings did. It’s not selling out to corporate anybody. It’s not necessarily a genre of music as it is a way of life. You hear the term ‘Outlaw’ and it conjures up different things to different people. And were doing our best to let people know it’s just the way these people do their music. They do their own thing.”
What started out as a way to promote his barbecue sauce has turned into a full blown 4-day festival with over 40 bands. Already the festival was forced to move from its original location of the Wishbone Rance to Edgehill Farm because of the expected turnout. “Our goal on the whole thing is that if we break even, then there will be an Outlaw Fest 2015. Everybody wants it to be an annual event and that’s a good thing. Because people see that we’re doing everything we can do to do it up right. I don’t know anything else to do that we’ve not done. But the long-range goal is to make this an annual event that will rival anything else out there.”
This story has been updated.
Waylon fans and collectible enthusiasts from around the country and world made their way to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ or tuned in online to a 2,000-item estate liquidation from the Arizona homestead of the late Waylon Jennings. The auction was conducted by Guernsey’s of New York who compiled over 500 lots that included many pictures of Waylon and his friends, gold & platinum records and other trophies accumulated over his storied career, many music instruments including personal guitars and amplifiers, personal effects like watches and sunglasses, clothing, and reams of paper material of Waylon’s lyrics and other musings.
Bidding began at 1 PM Pacific time, and started with the pictures Waylon had accumulated over his lifetime. The most desirable lot of pictures turned out to be a lot of four vintage photos from the set of the movie Stagecoach that included pictures with Johnny Cash, and one with Waylon shooting the bird from inside a stagecoach.
PLEASE NOTE: The sale prices should be considered preliminary and may not take into consideration certain factors. As soon as sale prices are finalized and confirmed, they will be updated here.
Out of the gold & platinum records and the trophies, the most sought-after of the collection was the gold record for The Highwaymen which fetched $6,000. 17 new trophies had been added to the auction recently from what was originally advertised, including a 1998 Chettie Award that went for $2,250.
Out of Waylon’s musical instruments, his two personal 1940′s Martin guitars brought $26,000, and $22,500 respectively, while a 1985 acoustic-electric Alvarez guitar fetched $10,000—much higher than original auction estimates. However auctioneers had a difficult time getting bidders interested in the numerous Fender amplifiers from Waylon’s personal collection, with most of the Twin Reverb models going for well under estimates, and for less than $1,000.
The crown jewel of the auction was the 1958 Ariel Cyclone motorcycle once owned by Waylon’s mentor Buddy Holly that was then given to Waylon on his birthday in 1979 by the former members of Buddy’s backing band The Crickets. It sold for $457,500. Some initial reports had the motorcycle not selling at a high bid of $375,000 that did not meet the reserve, but Saving Country Music has confirmed with the auction house the sale of the bike and the price. The other high bid in the auction was for a desk given to Waylon by Johnny Cash that sold for $70,000.
As for other items of interest, a letter from Johnny Cash to Waylon went for $2,750, the note from John Lennon to Waylon went for $7,500, and a robe given to Waylon by Muhammad Ali landed $5,000.
Proceeds from the auction went to benefit the Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Here’s a run down of some of the most important and interesting items from the auction:
1958 Ariel Cyclone Motorcycle. $457,500. (Read More)
Photograph of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash Rollerskating. $750
Waylon’s GED Plaque from the State of Oklahoma Earned on April 14th, 1991 at 52. $1,200
Gold Record for The Highwaymen Record from 1986. $6,000
1946 Martin D28 Herringbone Guitar. $26,000.
1943 Martin Guitar 00021. $22,500
“Little” Jimmy Dickens Dobro Resonator Guitar. $12,000
Gold RWN Necklace for Waylon, Ritchie Albright, & Neil Reshen. $1,800
Howard 23 Jewel Pocket Watch on Chain. $10,000
Golden Badge from Davidson County (Nashville) Sheriff. $2,500
Rare Autographed Copy of an Early Waylon Jennings LP, JD’s. $1,100.
Hank Williams’ Custom-Made Nudie Cowboy Boots. $8,000.
Muhammad Ali’s Ring Robe Presented to Waylon by Ali (Read More). $5,000.
Letter From Johnny Cash to Waylon Jennings (Read More). $2,750.
Willie Nelson’s Braids, Given to Waylon. $31,250.
Armadillo World Headquarters Poster w/ Commander Cody & Willie Nelson. $900.
Partner Desk Given to Waylon from Johnny Cash in 1985. $70,000.
Original Contract Forming The Highwaymen. $18,000.
Letter from John Lennon to Waylon Jennings (Read More). $7,500.
Waylon’s Rolex Submariner Wristwatch. $25,000.
It was November of 1985. Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash—long-time friends who traced their intertwined stories all the way back to when they shared an apartment together just outside of Nashville—were as close as ever, and sharing the stage as part of the supergroup The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. The song “Highwayman” had been one of 1985′s biggest hits, cresting at #1 and holding on the Billboard charts for 20 weeks on its way to becoming a Top 5 song of the entire year.
Amidst their success, Waylon had agreed to be a part of a “roasting” in Georgia to benefit the Spina Bifida Association of Atlanta, and all of his fellow Highwaymen, including Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash were scheduled to attend. Reporter Jack “Hawkeye” Hurst wrote briefly about the event on November 28th, 1985, and placed Johnny and June in Atlanta with Waylon, because that is where they were supposed to be according to the billing. But in truth Johnny and June were not there; they were in Jamaica. The Cash’s had a home called “Cinnamon Hill” on the Caribbean island which Waylon and his wife Jessi often visited, and while hiding away in their Jamaican home, Johnny and June missed the Atlanta roast. How do we know this?
As part of the liquidation of Waylon’s Arizona estate currently underway, a letter from Johnny Cash to Waylon has been made public for the first time. To make it up to Waylon for not attending the roast, Johnny Cash (or someone on his behalf) took to a typewriter, and in the spirit of a proper roasting, wrote a letter to Waylon that was equally apologetic for missing the event as it was pointedly sarcastic toward his old friend.
The Johnny Cash letter to Waylon Jennings is a testament to the friendship and closeness the two men shared, and the respect each man felt for respective wives.
The letter, along with hundreds of personal effects, including reams of other written paper matter, is scheduled to be auctioned off by Guernsey’s Auctioneers on Sunday, Oct. 5th.
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Waylon, this roast shouldn’t hurt you too much tonight, because your brain is already fried. Seriously, I wanted to be there so bad, but I have been told that the only way to get from Jamaica to Atlanta is to travel. I sincerely hope you will accept this honest reason. We miss you and Shooter. Did you ever find out who Shooter’s mother is . . . . . I love you, Jessi, don’t I June? Jessi, you are one of the few truly great women I have met in my entire life. As soon as we get home, we want you to find Waylon’s clothes that he is going to wear that day, then show him where the car keys are, and come to see us. Waylon, I love you, don’t I God? Just remember if you’re ever down to your last dollar, if all your old friends turn their backs on you, if you’re so low that you wish you could die, just remember, I’ll always be . . . . . . . . .
It’s is one of the complaints from contemporary music listeners that all popular music is beginning to sound the same no matter what station you tune in. Popular music is coalescing into one gobby monogenre blob. But the truth is when you go back in time to popular American music’s founding, before rabid commercialization really grabbed it’s foothold, it was sort of the same story. Before country was country, and rock & roll was rock & roll, there was little difference between the two. Bands like Maddox Brothers & Rose played both “hillbilly” music and “boogie woogie” with little to no distinction as separate art forms. Elvis Presley started out as a rockabilly artist and went rock. Johnny Cash started as a rockabilly artist and went country. In many respects, rock and country were the same thing before they were ever split and combined together again, especially in Memphis, TN.
Michael Goodman is a good modern illustration of this primitive era of American popular music where rock and country were virtually the same. As an actor, Goodman has portrayed Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins in the acclaimed Million Dollar Quartet theatrical production and other places, and can play all the with haunting accuracy. This exemplifies both Goodman’s flexibility, and depth of knowledge about those formative country and rock years, and he brings this all to life again in Unbreakable Heart. Funny yet formidable, sad but rocking, Michael Goodman smoothly takes you on a musical time warp to the roiling 50′s to both cut a rug and cry in your beer in a time when music was much better across the board and became immediately timeless.
Unbreakable Heart almost feels like two separate albums fashioned together. Though “rockabilly” may be the easy way to describe the one half, this album is a little less Brian Setzer and Reverend Horton Heat, and a little more Nick Curran and JD McPherson. He stays a little more rock than billy so to speak without reaching into the punk vibe. There’s an Everly Brothers-sounding tune called “Everly Avenue” and a boisterous joke song called “Cock Block Ninja.” Comedy and wit is one of the calling cards of Michael Goodman’s music and something that separates him from the crowd. “Kissed A Lot” is another of the album’s really good old-school rock and roll cuts.
But where Michael Goodman won over this critic was with his country fare. Coming at you hard and straight, this is traditional country music in every sense, yet approached with a freshness and enthusiasm so it doesn’t feel drabby or anachronistic. Goodman lists people such as Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, and Jerry Reed as influences, but what you mostly get on Unbreakable Heart is straight-laced throwback traditional stuff. Growing up in Kentucky, Goodman was surrounded by bluegrass bands and church choirs. Singing and country music was at the core of his upbringing, and this comes through in tracks like “Drinking About You,” “Why Don’t You Love Me,” and “Lyin’ Cryin’.” He gets a little closer to the Outlaw era with songs such as “Carrying On What Nashville Left Behind” and “I’m Just Country,” but it still feels more traditional than country rock. “Old Damn Games” is where Goodman begins to venture more towards the 70′s vibe than the 50′s.
There are a few songs that bridge the old-school country and rock worlds, but this “together, yet separated” approach to country and rock makes for a very fun, and spicy album that has you guessing at what’s coming up next. And whether it’s the country twang or the rock and roll warble, Goodman’s interpretation of the music and his singing is spot on, and he’s a great guitar player to boot.
Concerns about Unbreakable Heart are mild, but he could have spent a little more time working out his approach to “Everly Avenue,” and maybe solicited someone else to sing with him instead of trying to pull off the close harmony himself. Also some of the songs, especially the old school country tracks feel like they step down in production quality from the other songs, possibly to make them sound “old,” but the volume and mixing left a little to be desired.
Like walking into Sun Studios circa 1956, Michael Goodman and Unbreakable Heart take you back to a time when the music of American was uncorrupted, the sentiments were sincere, and the promise was unending.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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Sturgill Simpson has been touring on and off for the past few months with Zac Brown Band upon the request of Zac Brown himself. And on this most recent leg, Sturgill was invited to share the stage with Zac and the boys on their extended rendition of the Marshall Tucker Band classic, “Can’t You See,” written by the great Toy Caldwell. The song was also famously covered by Waylon Jennings in 1976 on his Are You Ready For The Country album, reaching #4 on the Billboard Country charts.
Zac Brown Band has been playing the song regularly over the last few years, and guitar player, singer, and songwriter Clay Cook, who used to be in the Marshall Tucker Band, takes the lead on the song that can regularly stretch out to 12 or 13 minutes. At recent shows, including this last weekend’s sold-out shows a Fiddler’s Green Amphiteatre in Greenwood Village, CO., both Sturgill Simpson and his guitar player Laur “Little Joe” Joamets joined Zac Brown Band on stage for the song.
A few videos of the performances have surfaced, one which has pretty clear visuals but muffled sound, and another that has great sound but the camera is sideways. On the second one the crowd erupts when Sturgill’s name is called out to take a verse of the Southern rock classic. Hopefully some better video surfaces, but until then it is still cool to see and hear Sturgill collaborating with one of country music’s biggest drawing acts.
Sturgill Simpson takes a detour tonight (9-10) to Los Angeles to perform on Conan O’Brien.
“When people ask me who I admire most in the world, I always have the same answer: Muhammad Ali.” –Waylon Jennings
The occasion of Waylon Jennings’ Arizona estate being auctioned off on October 5th by Guernsey’s Auctions has given us the opportunity to sit back and be awed at the remarkable life this poor boy from Littlefield, TX lived. The artifacts that Waylon accumulated over the years tell the story of a man who lived an incredible life, and one with a little more refinement than what there appeared to be on his rough, “Outlaw” surface. The presence of a letter to Waylon from John Lennon speaks to the breadth of Waylon’s influence and respect in the music world, but outside of music, there was another acquaintance, just as remarkable in its strangeness, but even more astounding in its depth. I’m speaking of Waylon’s undying friendship with Muhammad Ali.
Two heavyweights from different disciplines coming together in friendship is one thing. But the respect these two men had for each other is something so erudite and unexpected, it can give you chills.
“I thought he was too smart-ass for his own good when I first heard of him,” Waylon said in his autobiography with Lenny Kaye. “But after I realized what he was doing, he left-hooked me quick. Muhammad talked about himself with a grand sense of humor, but it helped that he was probably the most gracefully flamboyant boxer of our lifetime.”
Waylon was introduced to Muhammad Ali by Kris Kristofferson in 1978. “I met him back in the ’70s, after I did ‘A Star Is Born,’ and he’d seen the movie,” Kristofferson tells Men’s Journal. “We’ve been close since. I remember that Waylon Jennings, who wasn’t impressed with anybody, wanted to meet Ali. I introduced them at some restaurant in Los Angeles, and I was worried because that’s when Waylon was really messed up. He looked like death eating a soda cracker – his hair was all greasy and he’d been up for a month, I think. But they became great friends too.”
Kristofferson says of Ali, “I’m still close with Muhammad, and he’s probably the biggest hero in my lifetime.”
In Ali’s dressing room during a fight is where the deep friendship between Waylon and Ali was forged. “Kris brought me back to his dressing room the night he won the belt back from Leon Spinks. Before the fight, he was the most calm man you ever saw, sitting on his trainer’s table, waiting, sure it was a done deal.”
Muhammad Ali’s September 15th, 1978 fight with Leon Spinks wasn’t just your typical boxing match, or even your typical heavyweight title fight involving Muhammad Ali. Earlier that year in February, Spinks became the first man to defeat Ali in the ring to claim boxing’s heavyweight belt. Seven months later in Louisiana the rematch ensued, held at the Superdome and immortalized as the “Battle of New Orleans.” Ali, who hadn’t taken the first bout seriously, won the rematch solidly in 15 rounds by a unanimous decision. Once again, Muhammad Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the World, making him the first ever three-time champ.
“When I left, he simply said ‘Waylon,’ and gave me a big hug,” Waylon recalls, but that was not all he gave Waylon. Whether it was a token of his friendship, or repaying Waylon for being his good luck charm that night, Muhammad Ali gave Waylon the white terrycloth robe he wore before the fight, and the training gloves from the bout as a gift. At that moment, a robe that already was a priceless artifact of the boxing world also became an important artifact in the country music world, bestowed with such honor by the friendship between the two men.
“We had lunch in L.A. a few months later,” Waylon remembers. “And after Shooter (Waylon’s son with Jessi Colter) was born, I called him and told him we were having a christening. ‘We’d love to have you,’ and sure enough, he showed up and flopped down on the couch. ‘I’m here to integrate this joint,’ he said with a smile.”
Waylon once wrote a song for Muhammad Ali called “Here’s To The Champions,” but never got to sing or record it for him. But at a Parkinson’s Fund dinner in Phoenix in 2010, Kris Kristofferson sang the song with Waylon’s widow Jessi Colter for Ali. It reportedly brought tears to Ali’s eyes. The yellow piece of paper Waylon wrote the lyrics to Ali’s song on, as well as other pictures of Ali from Waylon’s estate will be a part of the upcoming Waylon auction along with the robe, and the gloves given to Waylon by Ali.
After attending Shooter’s christening, something else happened that showed the deep friendship between Waylon and Ali. “I had just bought the bus we called Shooter I,” Waylon recalls. “It wasn’t even furnished yet; I don’t know if it had license tags. Muhammad asked me for the keys, drove it to Louisville to see his momma, and then brought it back. He could have kept it for all I cared. He means that much to me, and the world.”
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“You can’t just roll into town anymore. It’s a fucking arms race to find the last affordable rental. More Wayne Newton than Waylon Jennings.” — Caitlin Rose
It’s that penultimate moment—that tipping point—when a town or neighborhood known for it’s cool, rich, and creatively-vibrant culture becomes so awash with interlopers, gentrifying hipsters, and retiring baby boomers that the critical mass point is reached in redevelopment, rising rents, and real estate prices and the entire thing implodes, leaving in ruin the whole reason people desired to be in the area in the first place, and taking with it the inspiration that brews beneath the streets, the collaboration that is fostered in its venues and low rent space, and a magical time and place on the musical timeline falls victim to imported money and urban renewal, maybe to be harbored once again in another part of town or another town altogether, or maybe not.
Nashville—not Music Row Nashville—but the independent underbelly of Nashville and specifically the East Nashville portion of town, have been the rallying point for the current generation of vibrant country and Americana artists that make up the heart of what independent roots music has been all about for the last half decade to decade or so, but even going back to the 70′s when songwriters from Texas were moving to the city to be closer to artists who may cut their songs. East Nashville’s affordability gave artists the ability to be flexible with their income, allowed them to be able to only work part time, or dedicate themselves solely to their craft in a way that wouldn’t be possible amidst a higher cost of living. East Nashville was the creative generator of Music City, churning out songs that inspired the rest of the town, and the rest of the industry.
But all that might be changing, or has changed, depending on who you ask.
In late June Saving Country Music published an article entitled How Nashville’s Economic Boom Could Kill Its Creativity, later to be reposed by American Songwriter. In just the short two-month period that has since passed, as more and more development breaks ground and other massive building projects get announced, Music City may have finally reached the point of no return; at least that is what some of the artists are now saying.
On August 21st, performer and songwriter Caitlin Rose, daughter of well-known songwriter Liz Rose, went on a Twitter rant about what she sees currently going on in Nashville.
“Everyone can stop moving to Nashville now. We’re full. Thanks.” Caitlin said in part. “Did y’all hear they’re tearing down all of Nashville and putting one giant Margaritaville in its place? People come to Nashville for the music. They stay for the expensive chain restaurants and condo culture. They never leave… Everyone’s got dreams of making it in Music City, USA. Most of them don’t. Like barely any of them.”
This marrying of concerns about the percentage of independent businesses and the ability for young artists to make it in the city speaks to complexity of the gentrification issue. It’s not just the low rents, or even the concentration of creative types in a certain locale that sees the formation of a creative epicenter, it’s also the inspiration that can be drawn from cool old buildings, independently-owned business, mural art and graffiti, and a menagerie of other community elements that go into building a creative forward environment. “Just saw badass dude biking down Charlotte with a raccoon on his shoulder and a box full of blankets. Fuck new Nashville and condo culture,” Caitlin Rose tweeted out a few days later.
Justin Townes Earle, son of alt. country forefather Steve Earle, has been another vocal opponent of Nashville’s gentrification. Earle grew up in the city, and regularly takes to Twitter to complain about the bulldozing of landmarks, the building of condos, and the general scrubbing away of everything Music City is supposed to be about. Earle recently told American Songwriter, “Nashville is where I was born and raised, I never got away from the city, but the city is definitely not the city that I grew up in…It’s pretty crazy, people here think they live in New York. They live in Nashville, and it’s hard to swallow sometimes. I had a fucked up childhood so I lived in over 30 houses in the city, and I think that maybe two of them are still standing, and one of them is part of an apartment complex.“
Otis Gibbs is one of East Nashville’s most identifiable musician residents, and offers a slightly different perspective. His Thanks For Giving A Damn podcast regularly features friends and neighbors from his East Nashville haunt, and he likes to hoot and harp on the East Nashville way of living regularly on Twitter.
“Amy Lashley and I moved here seven years ago from Indianapolis, but the growth in East Nashville started long before we came along,” says Otis. “People like Chuck Mead, Skip Litz, Joe McMahan, Kevin Gordon, Sergio Webb, Mike Grimes and later Todd Snider were living here and touring the world twenty years ago, or more. Back before that people like Guy Clark, Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Grady Martin and a lot of others lived here. This has been a neighborhood full of creative people over the last few decades, but the national media is just now catching on.”
Otis shared a picture with Saving Country Music of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Susanna Clark on Guy Clark’s porch in East Nashville that speaks to the history of East Nashville as a bastion for creative types.
“Nashville is home to the best pickers in the world,” says Otis Gibbs. “It’s an embarrassment of riches and it’s easily my favorite part of living here. I played a venue in Zurich, Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and saw a poster advertizing my neighbor’s band. He owns the house next to mine and he’ll be playing that same club next month. The first time I ever met that same neighbor was when we both played a festival in Springfield, Illinois. He walked up to me back stage and said, “I think you live in the house next to mine.” That sort of thing happens all the time. I once learned who moved into the house down the street from me by reading his name on his road cases as he was moving in.”
Otis says home ownership for East Nashville’s musicians is one way to hold on to heart of what the community has become over the years.
“It’s always nice to see musicians in my neighborhood who own their homes. It’s cheaper than renting and if property values get as crazy around here as some people suspect, they’ll have something to show for it. I have friends in South Austin who bought their homes back in the day and have seen their homes quadruple in value.”
The problem is when those homes values increase, if the musicians aren’t already locked into ownership, they are locked out of the community in rising prices and rents, and that is the new dilemma arising for many of East Nashville’s musicians. One of the biggest points of contention in the community is the splitting of lots so that two new homes can be built on the same original lot. Along with the demolition of older apartment complexes, this has seen the inventory of older and cheaper housing in the city dry up, and with it, much of the original character of East Nashville neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, including East Nashville’s Inglewood and Rosebank districts are looking to restructure zoning laws to help stem the tide of gentrification.
Still, growth and lot division is occurring because of the demand for more living space in East Nashville, and where there are losers, there’s winners as well. Craig Havighurst, a writer and the co-host of Music City Roots has a different take on condos and all of the commotion about Nashville growth.
Urban creative hives require urban scale and urban density, which is something I feel we’re only beginning to approach from South of Broadway all the way out to Green Hills. Two houses on one lot are a way to provide critical housing supply without sprawling. It might prove to be one of the best accidental policy ideas the city’s ever had. Because better to build in and up than out. Complaints that the houses are too large for their lots are entirely subjective and based on the look and feel of a kind of neighborhood that isn’t necessarily compatible with urban dynamism. The new people fill new restaurants and coffee shops, where those aspiring musicians find jobs while they develop. And a lot of those new arts and music professionals bought starter homes in Inglewood and Sylvan Park. We can empathize with folks who are seeing their rents rise and still acknowledge that for many, this was a good investment that will make their future more secure.
What everyone can agree on is that the cultural dynamic that exists in Nashville at the moment and has helped give rise to artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Caitlin Rose, Justin Townes Earle, Cory Branan, Tristen, Lindi Ortega, many more countless names in the past, and who knows who in the future, is in every music fan’s interest in seeing preserved because of the musical riches it has afforded us for the last few years, and for decades before.
On October 5th, Guernsey’s Auctions will be liquidating a massive 2,000-piece collection of items owned by Waylon Jennings from his Arizona estate. Though there are many items of intrigue to be sold off, one of the most curious might be the letter John Lennon once wrote to Waylon Jennings. Representing such a clashing of music worlds, this artifact of popular music is one of the few insights we have into men that spent most of their lives trying to protect their privacy and wearing their personas like armor.
The letter first surfaced in the public eye in the glossy photo section of Waylon’s 1996 autobiography with Lenny Kaye. No explanation, and no context for the letter was given, simply the caption of, “A Beatle writes…” Beyond the natural curiosity the letter creates from being between two megastars who on the surface would seem to be polar opposite personalities, the hilarity Lennon embedded throughout the letter makes it especially enriching. Waylon Jennings and John Lennon were not as far apart as one would think, or as even the two stars thought themselves when they first met at the Grammy Awards in New York.
For starters, Waylon and John had a “Buddy” between them. Buddy Holly was a big influence on The Beatles during the British band’s early stages, and Waylon did time as the bass player in Buddy Holly’s backing band “The Crickets” when the two original members took a break. The name “The Crickets” by many accounts is what directly inspired Lennon to call his band with Paul McCartney “The Beatles,” (McCartney was responsible for changing the ‘e’ to an ‘a’). The first song John Lennon ever recorded with Paul McCartney and George Harrison was a cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day.” It was also Waylon who gave up his seat to The Big Bopper on that fateful plane that crashed in 1959 in an event that later became known as “The Day The Music Died,” taking the lives of the Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
But when John Lennon met Waylon, Buddy Holly was not what was on his mind, and it wasn’t on Waylon’s either. As revealed in a 1996 interview with Waylon by Terry Gross, both stars had the other pegged incorrectly before they met. “I met John Lennon, and I – you know, we were cutting up and everything at one of the Grammy things,” Waylon recalls. “And I said, ‘Man, you’re a lot of – you’re funny. I didn’t know you were funny,’ I said. ‘I thought you were some kind of mad guy or something like that.’”
This explains in part the humorous tone Lennon took with the letter.
When it came to how Lennon perceived Waylon, it was even more off the mark.
As much as Waylon’s reputation in the United States was one of a rough and tumble country music Outlaw, in the U.K. it was even more so. During an early studio session in Waylon’s career, he was recording at RCA in Nashville when he brought a gun into the studio to make a point about RCA’s session players playing “pickup notes.” Waylon didn’t feel like session players played with any feeling to their music. They were great players, but after playing on so many different recordings each day, they lacked the type of imagination and creativity Waylon wanted on his records. This perception of session players was later one of the foundations for the Outlaw movement, but while Waylon was still under the thumb of RCA, he had to do whatever he could to get the session players to play with feeling.
So during one studio session, Jennings brought a long-barreled Colt Buntline revolver with him and proclaimed, “The first guy that I hear use a pickup note, I’m going to shoot his fingers off!” Though the session players themselves probably took it mostly as sarcasm, some British journalists who were in the studio observing the session at the time didn’t have the same handle on American custom or Waylon’s personality. After their reports of Waylon carrying a revolver into the studio were published, Waylon’s Outlaw reputation in Britain only grew more menacing.
So when Waylon said to John Lennon at The Grammy Awards, “I thought you were some kind of mad guy or something like that,” Lennon’s response was, “Listen, people in England think you shoot folks.“
All indications are Waylon Jennings and John Lennon hit it off like peanut butter and jelly. Though the letter itself does not shed much light on when they met (the date Lennon gives is “MARCH SOMETHING (year of our ford),” though it does say “75 etc.” below), they likely met on March 1st, 1975 at the Uris Theater in New York City during the year’s Grammy Awards. Waylon was up for Best Country & Western Vocal Performance for his song “I’m A Ramblin’ Man,” and Lennon was a resident of New York at the time.
The letter seems to be prefacing Lennon sending Waylon a song or songs he wrote but never released. From misspelling Waylon’s first name (and correcting it with pen), to Lennon’s Liverpool accent coming out in his typing (“TWAS GOOD TA MEETYA”), to the self-portrait squiggle of his own visage, the John (Lennon) letter to Waylon may offer as much insight into the true personality of the legendary Beatle than any other artifact he left behind on this mortal coil. And it’s one that is given special meaning because of who it was sent to.
From the fertile Outlaw country ground that comprises the hills and hollers of Boone County, West Virginia comes a homespun, but inspired and deftly-written insight into the American experience called No Place Lower Than High. Composed and performed by the virtual unknown singer and songwriter Justin Payne, this no budget project cut in a 100-year-old coal camp house is rough-hewn, scratchy, and sometimes hard to listen to through the production shortcomings. But hiding under all of the coal dust is a soul-bearing, bare-chested, and unfettered account of one man’s dreams and demons more than worthy of listening in on.
When I use the term “Outlaw” to describe Justin Payne, I mean the Merriam-Webster version, the Waylon Jennings circa 1974 version, with the half time bass beat holding everything together and the Telecaster phase guitar turned high. This album is Outlaw in every sense of the classic terminology, but it’s not just tone, bravado, and style like the stereotypical Waylon or Paycheck interpretation of Outlaw. This album has the Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark legacy of the Outlaw era in it too with intense, weighty songwriting lurking within these tracks, and a troubadour’s heart hiding beneath Payne’s brambly exterior.
When it comes to the songwriting on No Place Lower Than High, Justin Payne measures high on all gradients. Vulnerable, honest, insightful, and personal, Payne aims right for the heart and sinks his lyrical dagger true. Justin doesn’t undertake in character generation on this album. This isn’t a work of folklore or fiction. Payne’s narratives are ripped right out of his own experiences in those Boone County hills, and the truth behind the words of these songs is what makes them so gripping.
What holds No Place Lower Than High back is simply the way it sounds in certain places. Though in the same regard, the style is one of the album’s strengths. Foggy, slightly muted, unmastered, and employing some very strange tones in places, especially in the drums that sound at times electronic (whether they are or not), this is the unfortunate assessment that will probably keep certain listeners at arm’s length. But generally, Justin has the arrangements and even the tones and styles spot on; it’s just the production level leaves a layer of film on the project that passive music fans might not be able to listen through. Conversely this haziness is also what makes the album sound classic and cool, and there’s a lot of accidental genius and endearing simplicity in the way this album was cut and glued together. A song like “The Fall” came out perfect, and would be criminal to tinker with.
Strip away all the music, and simply on paper this album has so many great compositions. “The Man I Should Be,” “The Fall,” “Life Is A Country Song,” “Papers,” “Sunday Song”—they just keep coming. The only song that seems unfortunate to have made the cut is “Your Kind.” Destined to be taken the wrong way by certain listeners, it falls into more of the stereotype of what one might expect from this album, instead of what one actually gets from the other nine songs. It’s just very divisive in its tone, where the rest of No Place Lower Than High barrels you over with the unexpected poetry and wisdom.
Justin Payne is no crooner, but similar to the production of the album, you root for him, and he surprises you with his vocal adroitness, and sense of timing and dynamics, making the most of his given attributes and authentic drawl.
It wouldn’t be fair to not dock No Place Lower Than High for the flaws of the project illuminated above, but you get the sense with this inaugural album that there is something very strong here, something extremely promising that just needs a little polishing, while at the same time, taking great care not to compromise what makes Justin Payne so cool and authentic, and greatly enjoying what he’s already done with this album.
No Place Lower Than High is a superb underground gem sifted out of a mess of coal rubble, in an era when such discoveries seem much too far between.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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In early August it was revealed that Guernsey’s Auctions out of New York City was preparing to auction off 2,000 items from the Waylon Jennings estate in Chandler, Arizona, with the proceeds going to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Now even more details of the auction items have been revealed as the auction house has made a detailed auction guide available for pre-order.
The items will be made available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Included in the auction is a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams. There’s also an authentic set of Willie Nelson’s famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylon’s newly-found sobriety. There’s also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. There’s also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979 (read more).
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JD’s in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylon’s Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
For more information on the auction, visit www.guernseys.com.
Braids Willie Nelson gave to Waylon after he found sobriety.
“Storms Never Last” Bronze Bust
Waylon’s Stage Chair
Waylon’s Personal Rolex Submariner Watch
Porsche Design Sunglasses & Case
Porsche Design Sunglasses
Partner Desk Given to Waylon by Johnny Cash in 1985
Original contract forming the supergroup The Highwaymen.
Photo Display from the Music Row Museum
Muhammad Ali’s Training Gloves
Muhammad Ali’s Ring Robe Presented to Waylon Jennings by Ali in 1978
Letter from John Lennon To Waylon
Original Black Crayon Drawing of Johnny Cash by William Nelson
Hat Worn by Hank Williams Jr. During a Live Performance
Nomination Plaque for “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”
Fender Custom Shop Waylon Jennings Telecaster
Waylon’s Favorite Pair of Lucchese Boots
Engraved ST Dupont Black Chinese Lacquer and Gold Lighter c. 1970s
Hank Williams’ Custom-made Nudie Cowboy Boots
Costume Worn by Jennings in Sesame Street’s Follow That Bird
“The Buddy Holly Days”
Baume Mercier Watch
Nashville Rebel Poster with Autograph
Autographed Nashville Rebel Poster WITH ORIGINAL SHARKEY’S POSTER
1943 Martin Guitar 00021
The Highwayman Goes Gold
Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Every day tens of thousands of people put on the police uniform and put their lives on the line to protect and serve the citizens of the United States, and do it with a servant’s heart and a sincere desire to protect their local communities. But others step over bounds, grow power hungry in their positions, and some communities have dealt with corruption and brutality in policing for decades to where over the years it has become an eternal theme in American music, and in country music specifically.
Many country music songs deal with characters being incarcerated, being sent on the lamb, or being killed for things they have done that are wrong. However the following songs are ones that question if anything was done wrong in the first place, or decry how the system doesn’t allow previous wrongdoers to truly rehabilitate.
Here are 10 country songs criticizing the police state.
Johnny Cash – San Quentin
Many of Johnny Cash’s songs speak out about the inequality and ineffectiveness of America’s jails and the police state in general, and he punctuated this sentiment throughout his career with his legendary prison concerts. But no Johnny Cash song spells it out more clearly than “San Quentin”.
“And I leave here a wiser, weaker man. Mr. Congressman, you can’t understand.”
Kris Kristofferson – “The Law Is For Protection of the People”
From Kris Kristofferson’s first, self-titled album from 1970 which also included iconic Kristofferson-written tunes like “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Me & Bobby McGee,” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “The Law Is For Protection of the People” is arguably Kristofferson’s most powerful counter-cultural, anti-authoritarian statement of his career. Another song from the album, “Best Of All Possible Worlds” also carries a strong message about the police, but one where Kristofferson admits to his own drunken culpability.
“So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line, and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross.”
J.J. Cale – “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma”
Native Oklahoman J.J. Cale’s calling out of middle America’s aggressive police state has also been covered famously by Cody Canada & The Departed, and by numerous bluegrass bands including the Yonder Mountain String Band and the Hutchinson Brothers. It is from J.J.’s 1973 album Really.
“They got fines, they got plenty. They’ll hold you up for days on end. Threaten your life, take your money. Make you think you’re there to stay.”
Waylon Jennings -”Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”
The song is about Waylon’s cocaine arrest in 1977 for conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. A courier tipped off Federal agents that a package sent to Waylon from his lawyer/manager Neil Reshen contained 27 grams of cocaine. As authorities waited to obtain a search warrant, Waylon flushed the drugs down the toilet, and the charges were later dropped. Waylon blamed the whole episode on the marketing of his music as “Outlaw.” The song includes one of the best lines of any country song decrying the police state.
“I’m for law and order, the way that it should be. This song’s about the night they spent protecting you from me.”
Waylon Jennings - “Good Ol’ Boys” (Dukes of Hazzard Theme)
“Just some good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm…”
Waylon says in his biography, “They thought that was good but said all it needed was something about two modern-day Robin Hoods, fighting the system. So I wrote, ‘Fighting the system, like two modern-day Robin Hoods,’ and they didn’t even know they wrote the damn line. It was my first million-selling single.”
Merle Haggard – “Branded Man”
Speaking out about the difficulty felons find in the world after they’re released from jail, this classic country tune was the title track off of Merle’s fourth album released in 1968. Though there is no shortage of prison songs in country music complaining about how tough it is in the clink or once you get out, “Branded Man” speaks specifically about the inability of the police state to rehabilitate and re-indoctrinate ex convicts back into society.
“I paid the debt I owed ‘em, but they’re still not satisfied. Now I’m a branded man out in the cold.”
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Johnny Law
One of Wayne Hancock’s signature tunes about being pulled over for doing nothing wrong, “Johnny Law” is something most any American can relate to.
“You ain’t nothin’ but a bully with a star on your chest.”
The Bottle Rockets – “Radar Gun”
The cowpunk/alt-country entry into the list, “Radar Gun” was The Bottle Rockets biggest hit, reaching #27 on Billboard’s rock charts. It was released on their album The Brooklyn Side in 1994, later re-issued by Atlantic Records in 1995.
“Schedule 19 on a special election
Got our money problems right in hand
Droppin them limits like a hot potato
50 down to 30, oh man, oh man.”
Johnny Cash & Bruce Springsteen – “Highway Patrolman”
Though “Highway Patrolman” is seen by many as being against the police state, its message is much more subtle than most. Written and performed originally by Bruce Springsteen on his 1982 album Nebraska, it tells the tale of a Highway Patrolman who regularly looks the other way when his brother does wrong in the local community the officer is charged to protect. Johnny Cash covered the song on his album from the following year, Johnny 99—titled from another Bruce Springsteen song off of Nebraska.
“Well if it was any other man, I’d put him straight away
But when it’s your brother sometimes you look the other way.”
James Hand – “Old Man Henry”
When the 97-year-old Henry refuses to relinquish his land for a highway being built through town, he gets shot down by police who think he’s reaching for his rifle when he goes to pick up his cane. “Old Man Henry” off of Jame Hand’s 2012 album Mighty Lonesome Man is based partially off of true events.“40 rifles raised, from 40 men half crazed. As the bullets struck all around him, his house it caught ablaze. 40 rifles then, raised and fired again. As the fatal bullets hit him, Henry fell across Mary’s grave. A man of 97 years, lay dead upon the ground. As his soul winged up to heaven, a gentle rain came down. Henry laid across his Mary, their little home a pile of ash. Nothing left but the memories, they got their damned highway at last.”
What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth.
2014 has been a retrenching of sorts for many of country music’s legacy artists. Dolly Parton and Billy Joe Shaver have released albums after multi-year hiatuses from the studio, and to high praise and successful chart performances. The release of Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among The Stars treated classic country fans to an entire album’s worth of unheard material and collaborations with stars who’ve passed on, including Waylon Jennings and June Carter.
The song “It Ain’t You” off of Ray Benson’s album A Little Piece continues this trend of offering both something unheard, but something wrought during the living era of a legendary artist, and paid forward with reverence and care by those still around who are inspired by their legacy.
Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines. Benson was blown away that nobody had ever recorded the “undiscovered gem,” and he called up Willie Nelson who agreed to do the song with Ray. Willie recorded his part in his Western ghost town of Luck, TX. With Ray being 64, and Willie being 81, but both performers being very much in charge of their faculties and charging forward with their music careers, the pairing was perfect to embody the theme of “It Ain’t You” about growing old but staying young.
“It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. It has the similar self-reflective and age-recognizing tone of other Waylon-performed songs like “Memories of You And I”—pondering one’s own mortality and how age sees the sifting of abilities through your fingers. At the same time there’s a defiant strength woven through the lines; a reassurance that even though wrinkles may appear on the surface, the soul of a man continues to become refined over time.
The music, and both Ray Benson’s and Willie’s performances are chilling enough, but the video for “It Ain’t You” takes it a step further, fully understanding what’s at the heart of the song, and pulling out all the stops to not only do the song justice, but enhance the experience through the visual medium. The wisdom of knowing what the simple sight of Willie’s battle-worn hands can stir in the beholder, while crafting a way to capture the spirit of the long-time friendship between Ray and Willie so purely is worth watching even if the song itself doesn’t strike a particular chord with the listener.
Even without the legacies of Ray Benson, Asleep At The Wheel, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Gary Nicholson behind it, “It Ain’t You” would still be a song for the ages. Like the song’s writers, caretakers, and performers, it is destined to grow in stature over time.
Two guns up!
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