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- Web Exclusive of Kacey Musgraves on Fallon
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- Bluegrass Legend Ralph Stanley: 'Im Just As Fresh As I Was 100 Years Ago'
- Miranda Lambert Hits No. 1 with "Platinum" Album
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- Video Premiere for Otis Gibbs "Ghosts Of Our Fathers"
- Willie Nelson Performs "Band of Brothers" on Letterman
- Walls St. Journal Features Producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill, Isbell)
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On Saturday night (5-31), Valory Music Group artist Brantley Gilbert headlined the Blue Ridge Music Festival in Salem, Virginia, with Thomas Rhett, ABC Nashville actress and singer Clare Bowen, and Travis Tritt opening for him. Apparently what transpired stimulated Travis Tritt to take to Twitter to question the level of respect he and his fellow openers were treated with, and the respect he and other aging artists are receiving in general. Here are the Tweets in sequential order.
Even though @BrantleyGilbert only gave us 8 feet of stage, we had a great time performing for everyone @BlueRidgeFest tonight. Great crowd! My word of advice to all up and coming performers: Don’t kick anymore asses on your way up than you are willing to kiss on your way down! I’ve always treated my heroes and peers with respect. I’ve respected everyone from George Jones, Waylon and Charlie Daniels who opened.
Then Tritt tended to soften his stance as the tweets continued.
I doubt very seriously if @Brantley Gilbert knows how disrespectful his stage setup is to those who open for him. However, I’m just saying. Regardless of circumstances, I love performing for an appreciative audience. The folks make the show for me. Nobody appreciates y’all more! Make no mistake, @BrantleyGilbert is a fellow Georgia boy. He deserves whatever place he has carved for himself in the biz …. All I’m saying is that his handlers/management should be a little more aware of how he comes off to those he works with. No disrespect. Everyone in this biz knows we can’t please everyone, in spite of our best intentions. However, non of us can fix what we don’t know is wrong.
About an hour later, Tritt added:
Know this. I’ve had openers from Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, Little Texas, Joe Diffie, Lynyrd Skynyrd & LeRoy Parnell over the years …. And I’ve always personally made sure that they had all the stage space and production that they needed to put on the best show possible.
No response has been seen from Brantley Gilbert, who has not posted a Tweet since May 30th. Gilbert at the moment is promoting his recently released Just As I Am album which has been surprising people with its sales numbers and debuted at #1 in country music.
Tritt’s snipping of Gilbert’s nose (or at least his crew and management’s) is reminiscent of last summer when artists began speaking out like never before about the direction of the genre and the lack of respect for older artists, arguably crowned by Zac Brown who called Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night” the “Worst Song Ever.”
In January, Travis Tritt also had some criticism of the direction of the country music business, telling Peter Cooper of The Tennessean:
Thereâs a mentality in the country music world of Nashville that says, âYou donât know anything, and we know how to do this.â Itâs âWe know whatâs best for you: You get to the microphone, sing what we tell you to sing, play what we tell you to play, and youâll be fine.â That scares people away from branching out and doing things that creatively are out of the box.
The music business establishment does not have a crystal ball. They do not know everything that they tell you they know. Iâd say to any of the new people coming out, âFind the courage to step out and try it your way.â Otherwise, what we get is a cookie-cutter mentality that isnât good for artists who are having to portray themselves as something they arenât, or that are capable of doing so much more but are being stifled.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read that comedian and country music performer Brad Paisley‘s new album due out August 26th was called Moonshine in the Truck and “sees Paisley adapting the modern technology of EDM and dubstep to the classic country formula.”
Just read this following quote from Brad Paisley, if you can somehow comprehend it and make it all the way through, while understanding this is supposed to be a country music artist, and one of the “good guys” at that.
“When you hear a banjo through stutter edit, it’s the coolest thing you ever heard,” Paisley told Billboard. “I have a song that’s a basic love song, it’s got a great groove, and I cut this guitar part that gets distorted when I turn the nob up.Â I would say to Luke [Wooten, the producer], ‘Oh, that should’ve been done 20 years ago, but they couldn’t.’”
You’re making crazy talk Brad that I don’t exactly understand, but I’ll take it as a sign that yet another one bites the dust, gives up the ghost, pulls a Benedict Arnold, and has migrated to the other team. Please turn in your cowboy hat on the way out the door.
This is the problem folks. You try to be a pragmatist. You try to find some common ground. Hey, Paisley is a likeable guy: funny, smart, and yes, a great guitar player. But everywhere you look, as someone who simply cares a little bit about the sound that traditionally is considered to be country music, just paying scant attention is an exercise in getting socked in the nuts while being told you’re a closed-minded idiot who just wants all music to sound like Hank Williams. “You know, music has to evolve, man! They said Waylon wasn’t country either! Patsy Cline was pop too!”
And then it gets even worse from Mr. Paisley if you can believe it.
“The rulebook’s gone, or was there ever one?” Brad says. “They try, but I don’t play by it.”
Oh come on Brad, you played by the rulebook for fifteen years, and now by going in some “EDM” direction, you’re conforming to the rules more than ever. Breaking the rules on Music Row these days means actually playing country music. That’ll get you 86′d from your major label deal and knocking on the doors of Americana faster than anything. It’s like what songwriter Luke Laird recently said to The New York Times: “Right now, to write a country rap, itâs almost predictable. Itâs more of a risk to write a traditional country song.â
And possibly the worst commentary about all of this is that it’s not even shocking that Brad Paisley’s next album will be “EDM inspired.” Of course it will be. It’s predicable, and expected, and virtually required. And meanwhile the dissent that was being levied last summer by many worried artists about all this madness in country music has gone hush.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. I guess we should just wait for the bass to drop.
Garth! Hey buddy, it’s been a long time. Yeah, I know, we’ve seen each other in passing here and there. Some appearances at the award shows and such, and that whole thing out in Vegas and the recent box set release, though I’m not really sure if any of that counts. But hey, don’t worry, I’m not jumping on your butt or anything. You hung the moon for me for over a decade, and no matter what you decide to do from here on out, I’m forever in your debt for taking me to levels I thought were never possible, flying over stadiums on suspension wires and inspiring the Billy Ray Cyrus’s of the world notwithstanding. Hell I don’t even know that I can get worked up about all of that stuff anymore, or about your whole Chris Gaines gimmick, or for trying out for the Padres baseball team. I get it now. You were bored. You had climbed the mountain, conquered it, and were looking for the next challenge. Well let me tell you Garth, if you’re looking for a good challenge, I’ve got one. A big one. And this is one you might be able to accomplish. In fact, you might be the only one left on Earth who can.
Don’t think for a second that I blame you for taking a dozen-plus years off to spend time with your family, please. In fact I commend you for it. If we all spent a little more time putting family first, this probably would be a much more pleasant world to live in. Hell, don’t think the idea of dialing it all back doesn’t cross my mind every damn day, yet here I am working like a three-peckered billy goat. Do you know they say that country music is the biggest American music genre now? Ha, did you ever think we’d see that day Garth?
But this is the problem old friend. They’ve thrown the barn doors wide, and now everybody and their cousin is calling themselves country, and it’s gotten completely out of control. Be careful what you wish for, right Garth? I mean we’ve got DJ’s who don’t do anything but stand behind a couple of turntables pressing buttons now calling themselves country, rappers calling themselves country, hard rockers calling themselves country. It’s to the point now where I yearn for the days where Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift were the biggest pains in my ass. I look back now at the time when they said you were ruining the genre as the good ol’ days. By the way, do you have any idea if Waylon Jennings ever really said that line, “Garth Brooks did to country music what pantyhose did to finger $#@!ing?” Because for the life of me, I can’t verify it anywhere. And yeah, I know I just censored myself. But to some of us Garth, country music is still a family format.
I’m swallowing my pride here Garth. I need your help. Whether it was you and I pairing up in the in the 90′s to sell all those records that truly stimulated all these problems in the first place or not, the simple fact is you and I coming back together could maybe spell the end of it, or at least restoring some sort of balance to where if someone turns on their radio and tunes it to a country station, they might actually hear something that sounds like country.
I know there’s no need to pry you off you’re couch or anything; you’ve already got all the plans in the works for your big triumphant return, so this is not the direction my pleas are headed. What I want to implore you to do Garth is to keep it country. For the love of all things holy, keep it country. Please, as a favor to your old pal. Just be yourself. This is no longer about about trying to turn away the hordes who will call anything “country.” Truth is they won the battle years ago. That ship has sailed. This is about storming the gates ourselves, and taking back what is ours. You may be the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music, but as I’m sure you know Garth, country music is bigger than any one person (not to gloat, but you know…), and it is the responsibility of everyone, however big or small, to preserve and protect the country music institution, especially an artist like yourself whose benefited in the manner of untold riches from it.
They can say what they want about you Garth. There are old codgers and punks out there that will bad mouth your name no matter how the rules of the game change, and how much time redeems your past accomplishments. Actually, you want to put those critics to bed? Simply put out a true country album that is successful, and those people’s anger will turn to nostalgia and appreciation. I know deep inside of you is still that little boy from Oklahoma that grew up listening to Merle Haggard and George Jones; that appealed to the masses not by borrowing from other genres, but from finding and writing meaningful songs and singing them from the heart. Some focus on your wireless mic and your flawless, almost too-perfect presentation. But I focus in the fire in your eye, the aching moan in your voice that mimics a steel guitar the comes bursting through the mix to remind us all of the magic that country music can evoke when done right.
And you Garth, and only you, may still have the power at this late hour to remind the masses of that magic.
You did it once for the money Garth. Now, do it once for the music. Because we need it now more than ever.
Your once strained, but now rehabilitated and appreciative friend,
Have you ever heard of Justin Guarini? How about Diana DeGarmo? Blake Lewis, anybody? Or how about Lee DeWyze? Does Dia Frampton ring a bell with anyone? Anyone?
Dia Frampton was a contestant on the inaugural season of NBC’s reality singing contest The Voice. Frampton, like all of the other names listed above, was either a runner up, or a winner of either The Voice or American Idol. And there’s an infinite list of other indistinguishable names from where these names came from: singers that reached the very heights of reality show competition, only to fade back into the unknown masses once the next season kicked off. Reality singing show nerds might be laughing at me right now, knowing all of these names, and the styles and stats of each artist. And so maybe to them, I’m the one who needs to fade back into the unknown masses. But even those people should hang with me for just a second more.
Not to pick on poor Dia Frampton, but let’s just take a look back at what happened to her after she made it onto The Voice finale, and almost won. In December of 2011, Dia released an album called Red through Universal Republic Records. How did the album do? It reached a peak of #106 on the Billboard charts. The album’s lone single “The Broken Ones” didn’t chart at all. But in reality, that’s not bad compared to the actual Season 1 winner of The Voice, Javier Colon. His album peaked at #134 on the Billboard charts. In fact Javier, who had his own successful music career before The Voice, released an album way back in 2003 that made it to #91 on Billboard—43 spots better than the album contracted to him after his big reality show win.
Of course for all these types of anecdotal stories about reality show winners, there are success stories such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and to a lesser extent, artists like Kellie Pickler and Scotty McCreery. But many of these big stars came from the first few seasons of American Idol, while many other finalists and winners have completely dropped off the map or have taken to starring in other reality show competitions, or reprising B-level acting roles to attempt to keep the momentum of their big reality show win rolling.
And this brings us to the matter of the young, fresh-faced finalist on The Voice, Jake Worthington. Jake finished 2nd and has captured the hearts and imaginations of many traditional country fans by wearing a big cowboy hat, and singing Keith Whitley songs on the show every chance he got, along with songs from Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and others throughout the competition. Hey, that’s great. Great for this kid, and great that good, real country music is being exposed to the masses through him. But how many times have we been through this exercise with one of these reality show contestants, wondering if they are the ones that will rise out of the unclean masses to save country music with big reality show exposure?
I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. Jake Worthington seems like a really good kid, and good on Blake Shelton for shepherding him to the top level of the competition, and doing so while letting him keep his voice and style instead of swaying him in a more pop direction. But the reason that The ‘X’ Factor was canceled, the reason that American Idol has seen dramatically-declining ratings, and The Voice has remained stagnant, is because these competitions cannot consistently deliver winners that truly are American Idols, or that truly define “The Voice” of a generation.
Producers try to shake up the production, they shove more star power into these shows than the viewer can compute. ABC, despite the writing on the wall that with so many of these singing shows, they’re cannibalizing each other, is still starting their own competition come next season. But these shows are not delivering on their promise to the American public of delivering stars that they will then see selling out arenas, and performing on the Grammy Awards. That is why the singing reality show model is losing steam.
Opportunity is only what you make of it, and regardless of what the marketeers of these shows try to sell you on, the simple fact is nobody has the power to anoint a star. The winners themselves must still rise to find themselves, must still figure out a way to connect with the public at large. Some stars have done this like Carrie Underwood. Many haven’t like Javier Colon.
Let’s not overlook that it says a lot about the appeal of traditional country music that an artist like Jake Worthington even made it as far as the finals of The Voice. Everywhere you turn there’s people preaching to you that nobody wants to hear traditional country anymore, and it can be argued that Jake Worthington’s coach, Blake Shelton, has been one of the loudest champions of this sentiment. But whether it is Shelton changing course by seeing the blossoming of Jake Worthington right before his eyes, or the American public letting their voice be known by voting for Worthington, George Strait winning Entertainer of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards this last year, or even the recent announcement that Big Machine Records is partnering with Cumulus to reintegrate classic country artists into the fold, everywhere where traditional country is given a chance, it proves that it’s appeal and resonance with the American people is not on the wane as many would have you believe.
And don’t discount Mr. Worthington just because his path led through a reality show. At this point, with artists like Dan+Shay being nominated for awards before they’ve even released an album, and previous reality show contestants like Kellie Pickler putting out albums like 100 Proof that end up becoming the best country music has to offer in a given year, the most important question to ask is not where the artist came from, but what they accomplish with the opportunity they’ve been given.
Jake Worthington’s success, and the renewed interest in traditional country that might bestow, has much less to do with The Voice and where he placed, and much more to do with Jake Worthington, and if he has the stuff to speak to people’s hearts, and the guts to stick to who he is as an artist.
Our job is to help him.
I hate writing reviews like this. So I’m supposed to sit here and peck out a bunch of words to convince you to buy this damn thing? … an album many people are calling a “masterpiece” and the “best album in years”? The only person’s opinion about Metamodern Sounds in Country Music that truly matters is Sturgill Simpson’s papaw—the guy that introduces this album at the beginning of the first track. And by all accounts, he’s beaming about it. And so that’s all you really need to know. If more country artists used their grandparents as barometers on quality, I could probably board this URL up and do something that actually pays.
Just go and buy this record already. I really don’t have much else else to add, except to say that all these people reciting that Sturgill is like a modern Waylon Jennings aren’t listening beyond shallow observances based on his voice. And yes, lizard aliens and LSD are loosely mentioned in first song “Turtles All The Way Down”, and maybe similar cosmic themes are touched on here and there. But I don’t feel comfortable calling Metamodern Sounds a concept album. Sturgill actually touches on a wide variety of subjects during these ten tracks. “Long White Line” is very much a traditional country traveling song, though there may be some deeper underlying themes present there. And “Pan Bowl” is a very personal account of Sturgill’s hometown. Metamodern Sounds isn’t “out there,” it’s right where it’s supposed to be.
And to all these people saying that this album is one of the best they’ve heard in years, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, but I still hear much room for improvement. Then again, I’ve also seen Sturgill’s talents on full display. Even Sturgill says in the song “Life of Sin”, “And the boys and me are still working on the sound.” Sturgill is just now starting to hit is stride people, trust me. I’m half convinced half the things he does are just to screw with all of us. Once you realize that, then you really begin to unlock the true wisdom and enjoyment in his music. And before you go saying this is one of the best country records ever, understand Sturgill will likely have many more to come.
Or hopefully he will. Just five weeks ago, I got a smattering of emails from a group of attendees at a Sturgill concert that said he’d announced on stage that he was quitting music. Game over. Something about having a baby on the way and needing to “do the right thing” and contemplating moving back out West to work for the railroad again. Everyone said the show was great, but that Sturgill was moody, and left without shaking any hands. The next day Sturgill was on the radio in Kentucky for a lengthy interview, and I listened in intently, a draft of “Sturgill Simpson Quits Music” already in the works. And of course, he mentioned not a word along those lines. A couple of days later, NPR is premiering his video for “Turtles All The Way Down”, and next thing you know you can’t launch a web browser without seeing his name somewhere. Signal the all clear. Maybe it was just Sturgill’s way of getting us to not pay so much attention.
There are a few things that bother me with this album. Though the live approach of cutting the record in a few days with the band all together makes for a good feel for your recordings, I could have also seen splurging just a little bit to procure better backing vocals for the chorus in “A Little Light” and for the harmony line on the hidden track “Pan Bowl”. And here we go again with an album that has this tape hiss hampering the clarity of the recording throughout. Yes I get it, this hiss is the side effect of the “warmth” you get from a non-digital approach, and you’d rather deal with it than the alternative: a dead sound. But we’re making lots of albums that I’m afraid the future will look back on and wonder why we purposely made sound bad. There’s a balance here between analog and clarity that is being missed by some of the best albums being put out today. When Sturgill’s voice soars when he takes a chorus to his highest register,Â I just want to hear it without it getting corroded. Sure maybe it’s wishful thinking to even entertain this train of thought, but commercial radio will never get behind that hissey, “classic” sound.
“It Ain’t All Flowers” is the song on this album you’re going to either love or hate. Though some may think they hear turntable action and wonder if Sturgill has gone all hip-hop on us, the effects are more the result of tape playback and other audio hijinks. Not to level an accusation of predictability at Sturgill, but second albums from artists tend to include a stretching of boundaries so that they don’t become boxed into any sound that they then must be beholden to for the rest of their career. I don’t have a problem personally with “It Ain’t All Flowers”, though it does stretch out a little too long to where it begins to feel a little self-indulgent. I’ve also experienced this song live (at least I think it was this one), and it blew the doors off of the version that made it onto this recording.
Another polarizing decision for some will be the inclusion of 80′s one hit wonder When In Rome’s song “The Promise”. This is Sturgill teaching us all a lesson, and one we should heed. Every great song has a missive that resonates universally, and genres are just the clothing that make those missives more compatible to our familiarities. Sturgill and his band do more justice to this song than the original does.
With Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson doesn’t just capture our ears, he captures our imaginations. However misguided the notion is, most every disenfranchised country music fan harbors the idea that at some point some true country artist is going to come along that is so good, it is going to tip the scales back in the right direction. What Metamodern Sounds does is it gives the true country music listener hope beyond the happiness the music conveys. It resolves that ever-present conflict between sticking to the traditional sound, but progressing forward.
Sturgill Simpson’s first album High Top Mountain was just establishing the baseline. He was half bored with it himself by the time it was released. I was disheartened when I heard the rumors that Sturgill Simpson might be quitting music, but I wasn’t surprised. I remember sitting in a packed church cathedral in downtown Austin in March as part of Sturgill’s official SXSW showcase. It was completely quiet during and in between songs aside for the roaring applause right after each song, and after watching Sturgill play the first half dozen songs of the set, I truly wondered to myself, “Do I even like country music?” I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling Sturgill Simpson was wondering the same thing. Then he started to play some of the songs from Metamodern Sounds, and the answer became emphatically, “Yes!”
We’re just going to have to accept that Sturgill Simpson is a weird one: moody, dark, yet slowly trending toward some version of eternal optimism and happiness even the most cheerful and balanced among us will likely never achieve. “A picture’s worth 1,000 words, but a word ain’t worth a dime,” is what Sturgill says in one of the best-written songs on the album called “Voices”, and I can’t help but feel the barb of that song is pointed at people like me that start of by telling you they have nothing to say, and eight paragraphs later, still don’t feel like they’ve given you a proper summation of their thoughts.
It’s not time yet to be making comparisons to Red Headed Stranger, or even to Phases & Stages. These are things only time and history can decide. Yet Metamodern Sounds in Country Music hasn’t even been out for a full day, and it has already reached that critical mass state any independent release can, where no matter where you turn, you find people singing its praises. Where does Metamodern Sounds, Sturgill Simpson, and country music go from here? We’ll have to see. But right now, right at this very moment, not some famous son, not some Americana artist you have to squint at to construe as country, but Sturgill Simpson, and Sturgill Simpson alone, defines the pinnacle, and what is relevant in the here and now of independent country music.Â And he’s done it from the sheer strength of this album.
Two guns up.
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Whenever the name of country star Jake Owen comes up, it’s quickly proceeded by stories from fans talking about how down-to-earth Jake is for an artist of his stature. From many accounts, Jake Owen goes the extra mile: hanging out with tailgaters before and after shows, taking groups of fans out to unexpectedly on lake trips, and performing other similar gestures that show he doesn’t see himself as better than anyone else.
Last year when country artists began to speak out about the direction of country like never before, Jake Owen became one of the most vocal, taking a couple of occasions to say that country music needed to get back to more substance. In October of 2013, Jake Owen said in part, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckinâ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . .” Then in December of 2013, Jake Owen doubled down on his critical comments, saying,
I donât mean to sound negative. I love country music right now, itâs awesome. But Iâm guilty of it, too. We all have songs that weâre tending to put out because theyâre working and itâs helping our careers. But songs like âThe Thunder Rollsâ or John Michael Montgomeryâs âLifeâs a Dance,â they were songs that meant something to people. You donât hear a lot of those songs anymoreâŚ.People were like, thatâs real. There are so many songs now, and I have them, too, that are [about] sunshine, blue eyes, a tan. Thatâs not always real to everyone all the time. Or passing moonshine jars around. People do that when theyâre kids, but people also grow up. . . . Itâs important to have all kinds of songs.
Well apparently Jake Owen isn’t just a man of talk, he’s a man of action, and one virtually unknown country artist from Arizona is set to be the beneficiary of Owen’s good nature, and desire to see more substance in the format.
Tony Martinez is a well-seasoned traditional country artist and touring sideman for multiple projects, and by a strange twist of fate, will be filling the time between acts on Jake Owen’s Days of Gold arena tour starting May 15th in Huntington, West Virginia, going until at least late August.
It all started in Arizona at The Phoenix Open golf tournament in Scottsdale the last week of January. Tony was playing a party leading up to the event when Jake Owen saw him.
“Tuesday night there was the draw party for the Pro Am I got to play in,” Jake Owen explains. “So there I was, waiting to find out who we were going to play with, and this guy’s playing a guitar and singing over in the corner of the room you know, and I’m just mesmerized by how badass this guy is. I don’t know him from Adam. I’ve never met him in my life. But I had to go up to him after—I think we ended up getting hammered as hell that night by the way—and I said, ‘Dude, it’s going to be packed at The Bird’s Nest when I play there.’ And I said, ‘I want you to come out on stage with me and sing some badass old school country songs with me for a little bit if that’s okay.’”
So Jake invited Tony Martinez out on stage in front of the 15,000-person capacity crowd at The Bird’s Nest, and the two men proceeded to play the classic country songs “Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed, and Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenbach, TX” while the crowd roared (see below).
After Tony Martinez went over so well, Jake decided to recruit Tony to play between sets while the respective bands on the Days of Gold tour change over. Eli Young Band, and The Cadillac Three also are playing on the current lineup of the Days of Gold tour.
Tony Martinez started out playing as part of the vibrant independent country scene that exists in Phoenix, AZ. The weekly Valley Fever events at the Yucca Tap Room every Sunday night hosted by Dana Armstrong have become a staple of the Phoenix country music scene, and along with Tony Martinez, have also been a proving ground for Ray Lawrence Jr. who landed on a Hank Williams III record a while back, Robert Perez and Junction 10, and many other excellent country artists.
“I met him about 7 years ago when he came to the Yucca with Chip Hanna to play at Valley Fever,” says Valley Fever’s Dana Armstrong “We were all blown away by his raw talent. Since then, he just got better and better and quickly rose to the top of the Arizona country music scene. Not only is he a phenomenal musician and singer, he is also a natural performer. He’s born to be on stage. No matter what he’s playing, he makes it seem effortless, but heartfelt. Never a dull moment when Tony’s on stage.”
Martinez just finished multiple dates playing pedal steel guitar for J.P. Harris & the Tough Choices on the road, and after a recent move to Nashville, has been playing regularly at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn and the Full Moon Saloon on Lower Broadway.
“I was really excited when Jake came to me with the idea of going on his first headlining arena tour,” says Tony Martinez. “It gives me an opportunity to not only play my own songs in front of thousands of people that wouldn’t normally hear them, but also to expose a whole new crowd of people to the kind of music that has fallen by the wayside to the mainstream market. I think that making headway within that demographic is an important step in shifting the mainstream culture. Jake opened the door for me to try and do that. Hopefully I can make some kind of difference.”
Tony Martinez with Jake Owen:
Country is the only genre of music on planet Earth where the midlife crises of its artists play out on the airwaves and populate the very top of the charts, effecting the sonic path of the entire format for all the world to unbearably behold. And right now, Jerrod Niemann is doing the country music equivalent of blowing his retirement kitty on a red Lamborghini, and showing an unhealthy, creepy interest in his daughter’s hot best friend’s after school extra-curricular activities.
To call Jerrod Niemann an “ass” isn’t even hyperbole at this point. He isn’t spreading his arms wide in a submissive pose and pandering to Music Row to do their worst with him—be damned whatever destruction it might do to his legacy or long-term perception—Niemann’s precarious position at the moment much more resembles the compromising and unsavory posture of the poor bastard that graced the original cover of Pantera’s album Far Beyond Driven. Jerrod Niemann in 2014 might as well be like that fictional, computer-generated pop star in Japan: soulless, inhuman, and completely void of free will, relegated to a malleable piece of pop country EDM silly putty for marketing pricks to digitally program and have do their bidding without any fear of human will hindering the money making process or harboring any resentment or conscience. Jerrod Niemann is nothing more than a puppet, and the iron hands of the recording industry are confidently ensconced in his orifice whose colloquial name is an alternative to the title of his new single, “Donkey”.
Don’t fall for the ruse that just because Jerrod Niemann admits that this song is stupid that it somehow absolves it of all of the inexcusable, heinous sins it commits. Forgo all of the superfluous banjo on this track, Niemann’s cadence on “Donkey” evokes hellish nightmares of a cross between a castrated Right Said Fred and whoever the fuck sang that omnipresent mid 90′s ear worm “How Bizzare”. The line “They all walk funny when they’re done riding you know who,” singularly sets back country music 50 years, and would turn Loretta Lynn into stone like Medusa’s gaze if it ever graced her sainted ears. Our Lord Jesus Christ should resurrect Waylon for the exclusive purpose of shoving one of his Flying “W”‘s straight up old Niemann’s keister to see what kind of gait his pathetic ass would sport afterwards.
The jargon and inspiration for “Donkey” comes directly from the uncultured mouths of mid-pubescent 14-year-old boys with hard on’s, and any man who ever utters the term “honkey tonkey” in his entire existence should be banished from ever feeling the touch of another woman till the end of eternity, or certainly from mentioning the immaculate George Jones or his riding lawnmover in their stupid songs. And Niemann shows just how “country” his designer drug, upper crust dance beats are when he reveals that he thinks the term “donkey” and “mule” are interchangeable.
“Donkey” is an uprovocated ass raping of the ears, and if any Niemannites come here preaching to me the virtues of this song because “country music must evolve,” I will personally take a pair of donkey balls and use them to tea bag each and every one of their bedroom pillows when they’re not looking. “Donkey” isn’t just bad, it defines the catastrophic trainwrecking of the entire human evolutionary timeline. 800,000 years of homo sapien progress brought to a screeching halt because one pudgy douchebag wants an arena-sized “country” career before his pubes turn gray. “Donkey” is a harbinger for a dark age for arts, entertainment, and intelligence that humankind is on the precipice of plummeting headlong into.
The worst song ever? I’m tired to doling out this distinction only to have to offer a revision every six weeks when some other pop country asshole finds a new gradient for rock bottom, but Jerrod Niemann’s EDM-encrusted, braying ass certainly deserves to be in the discussion for that most disgraceful of honors.
Two guns way down!
There are few things that will immediately restore your faith in country music quicker than listening to a record from North Carolina’s John Howie Jr. and his stellar band The Rosewood Bluff. The former frontman of the renown, but now defunct Two Dollar Pistols never disappoints, and with his new album Everything Except Goodbye, he even manages to exceed expectations.
John Howie Jr. is one of those artists you don’t have to spend any time warming up to. Right off the bat you know this is real country, and real good. Pedal steel, a true country voice, and rock solid songs suck you in and have you saying to yourself, “Now this is what I mean when I say country music.” No need for “alt” or “Americana” qualifiers here, this is country music how it’s supposed to be.
John Howie Jr. has always loomed large as a frontman and singer, but there’s a few tracks on Everything Except Goodbye where he figures out how to downright outdo himself. He simply sings the hell out of the songs on this album, testing his range and dexterity like never before, resulting in him really squeezing the true emotion out of the story and drawing your ear in. His excellent vocal performances start with the title track. He hits a bass note on “Everything Except Goodbye” that would even make Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys go “Damn,” while a lonesome warble and other delicate inflections define the very sound of heartache. The slow “Goin’ Under (All Over Again)” is another one Howie sings the hell out of. Howie’s vocals really speak to the extra effort he put out on this album.
Though this is very much a straightforward country record from start to finish, a lot of different textures are touched on. “A Hell Of A Note” has to be one of the album’s best songs. Such a classic country story, it’s a song you would have expected one of country’s legendary heroes to have written years ago. “The Wash-Up” shows a different, growling, more honky tonk, or Waylon side of Howie that he rarely shows off, but nails on the head when he does. And if you’re going to tackle Mickey Newbury, especially the oft-covered “Why You Been Gone So Long,” you better stand on your head and deliver a flawless performance, and that’s what John Howie Jr. & Rosewood Bluff do.
Speaking of Rosewood Bluff, as much as Howie impresses pulling off his duties as singer and songwriter, his band matches the high bar Howie sets. Joining him is the stunning female bass player Billie Feather. With her flaming red hair and adept bass work, she adds that fire and legitimacy to the band that only a female can. She also contributes banjo to the album’s final track “Blue” which is the little extra wrinkle that makes that song something special. Pedal steel player Nathan Golub is the guy that really deserves the blame of the music itself on Everything Except Goodbye sounding so damn good. And Dave Hartman on drums and electric guitar player Tim Shearer have that “in-the-pocket” expertness that really gets John Howie Jr.’s sound.
About the only head shaker is when John Howie Jr. decides to cover notorious Compton, California gangsta rap artist Easy-E’s X-rated song “Nobody Moves, Nobody Gets Hurt” off of his controversial 1988 release Eazy-Duz-It … Okay I’m screwing with you, “Nobody Moves, Nobody Gets Hurt” is actually Howie doing what he does best: making those simple observations of life and referencing them in meaningful ways through the witty use of language.
John Howie Jr. & Rosewood Bluff really have the country music formula down of how to sound familiar, while still sounding fresh and original.
A great country album.
Two guns up.
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It has been since September of 2010 that fans of CMA Award-winning country music star Jamey Johnson have heard new music from the singer and songwriter. His critically-acclaimed double album The Guitar Song has had to tide listeners over for a protracted period, from an artist that before had been quite prolific. Johnson did release another album in October of 2012, but it was a tribute album, Living For A Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran.
Since then fans have been in a fog about when new music could be expected from the Alabama native, or even the nature of his label status. Then in an interview with Rolling Stone published February 10th, 2013, Jamey Johnson spelled out in specific detail that he felt he was getting a raw deal from his long-time label, Mercury Records Nashville.
âFinancially speaking, they treat me worse than they ever did the Dixie Chicks,â Johnson explained to Rolling Stone. âI feel pretty used by the music industry, in that my contracts are written in such a way that I donât get paid. Itâs time for us to regroup and itâs time for us to look at these contracts. The problem is, I donât trust any of the people that Iâve worked with so far. I believe theyâve all hidden the truth from me or lied to me or deceived me in one way or another. Because the end result is that no matter what they said or did or what they said they did, I didnât get paidâŚ As a musician I never studied music law. I canât even read the contracts Iâve signed. But Iâm fairly sure they donât say what I thought they said.”
Beyond The Dixie Chick’s public blackballing from country music after making disparaging comments about then President George W. Bush, they also were part of their own contract dispute, and claimed they didn’t get paid properly for their music. Jamey also explained that the ordeal had put a damper on his desire to write songs.
Well, I wish I could tell you that I am writing. Iâm not. I wish I could tell you Iâm gonna go home next week and record another album. Itâs not likely to happen. We havenât reached such a gridlock that we canât continue to do work with them in the future. But we canât do anything right now until that gets resolved.
Well apparently it has been, though initially the nature of that resolution still left us with more questions. While playing the Mahaffey Theater at the Progress Energy Center in St. Petersburg, FL on January 17th of this year, Jamey Johnson said to the crowd,
“Last time we did a show without a record deal was ’06. Tonight’s our first show without a record deal. And somehow we’re still on the same label. We just didn’t have nowhere else to go. They set it up where now we just don’t have to stay. And here’s one for all of our friends back at Mercury Records in Nashville, Tennessee.” (video below)
After the remarks, Jamey launched into the Waylon Jennings song, “Freedom To Stay.”
Jamey’s remarks would seem to allude that he’d stayed with the label, but also that he’d left it. Or that maybe they had restructured his deal so he could leave, but he decided to stay anyway. The comments seemed to create more questions than answers—more questions there had been before. But maybe that was Jamey’s intention.
So Saving Country Music, wanting to get to the bottom of Jamey’s contract status—called Mercury Records. This is a rough sketch of how the phone conversation went.Hello this is Trigger from Saving Country Music. I’m calling to see if I can ascertain the contract status of Jamey Johnson. Jamey who? I don’t know who that is. Jamey Johnson? I don’t know. Does he or she work here? Jamey Johnson. Is that a new artist or something? Won a CMA for Song of the Year? Wrote “Honky Tonk Badona Donk”? (going for the least common denominator in desperation) Huh. I’ve never heard that name. The rest of the staff is in a meeting. I will have to find out for you.
About 5 minutes later I receive a phone call back from Mercury Records Nashville.No. Jamey Johnson is no longer signed with us. So he didn’t restructure his deal or anything? He’s not signed to the label whatsoever? No. He was here, but he’s no longer signed with us. That’s all the information I can give you.
So there you go. Jamey Johnson has been stricken from the consciousness of Mercury Records Nashville and has moved on. Though this is no guarantee there’s new music coming from him, this certainly moves him one step closer.
Jamey’s remarks about his contract status can be seen at the 28:55 mark in the video below.
As if the Austin, TX guitar slinger-songwriter, and Chili Cold-Blood and Moongangers-fronting Doug Strahan didn’t have enough pots boiling on the stove, here he is throwing together a new project called Doug Strahan and the Good/Bad Neighbors, and releasing a new album Coal Black Dreams, Late Night Schemes that etches yet another notch on his barrel of badass releases. Straight out of a 1970′s time machine, this roots-fusing, country funky, genuine Austin freak of the old-school variety sounds like the smell of your chain-smoking crazy uncle’s old coat, and looks just as cool.
Many try to resurrect that heroine sweat sound of the 70′s. They throw reel to reel seances. They blow all manner of money on vintage gear. But I’ve never heard someone get so close to the true heart of that sound as Doug Strahan does on this album. He doesn’t strike the mood of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors or Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, he hits on the vibe of the albums that inspired those—that deep, gritty shit from JJ Cale, The James Gang, and Faces before Rod Stewart started screwed everything up. This is the real deal folks. The textures on this album are sublime, delivered with this incredible depth perception that few have the patience or expertise to pull off, making this album a vintage Audiophile’s paradise even if Strahan was reading from a phone book or covering Bobby McFerrin.
Maybe a little more classic rock than country for the most part, but still with some excellent country songs, Cold Black Dreams, Late Night Schemes has a little something for everyone … well except for those glow stick-twirling EDM freaks and Florida Georgia Line losers, but they can go suck black lemons; we like it loose and a little off-time, and that’s what Doug Strahan delivers with blurry-eyed beatnik coolness.
If you want to talk about real deal country, feast your ears on the steel-guitar-laden and twangy “Third Get Go”. With lines like “…sometimes love just falls out of you,” Strahan proves that he isn’t all tone and presence; he can write one hell of a song too. I’ll be damned if the ultra-sad and personal “Sunny Day” that closes out the album couldn’t have been written by Hank Williams himself.
From there the album evokes a bit more of a rock aura, though always with that country/blusey/rootsy underbelly, dirtied just right by running everything through a 40-year-old throwback filter. “I’ll Make It Rain” ropes you in with a nasty Waylon phase guitar, with the faraway Charlie Watts-style drums making for a catchy rhythm as Strahan moans in the background sounding like he’s a room away. Another of the good songwriting performances is the opening track co-written with Marissa Cox and Skye Cooley called “Good Cross Winds” which shows off Doug’s soulful side, while the harmonies in the chorus of “Down Time Abilene” inspire shivers.
Something else I like about this album is that it’s only eight songs. Maybe this is the talk of a jaded reviewer, but there’s something to be said about packing a punch and leaving the audience wanting more. This philosophy is something else Strahan imports from the early 70′s that other musicians could learn from.
For us lost souls that woke up in 2014 and wondered what the hell happened, Coal Black Dreams, Late Night Schemes sounds like home.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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The Good Bad Neighbors are Matt Puryear – drums & percussion. Ethan Shaw – upright bass, pedal steel, banjo, vocals. Sweney Tidball – dirty keys and organ.
Country music isn’t just a genre of music, it is a musical religion, a way of life, a cultural lineage passed down from generation to generation and preserved through the blood and bond of its performers and fans. That’s why it seems country music performers so very often tend to turn out to be the parents of country music performers themselves.
Let’s take a look at some of country music’s greatest sons and daughters.
Justin Townes Earle
Son of alt-country pioneer Steve Earle, and middle namesake of the man who was good friends with his father and considered one of the greatest songwriters ever, Justin Townes Earle has spent the last seven or so years trying to live up to the lofty expectations of both names, and has done so valiantly. Releasing a startling debut EP in 2007 called Yuma, Earle and his obsession with the craft of songwriting have led to critical success for the five albums he’s released through Bloodshot Records. Considered by many as one of the biggest names in the new generation of alt-country/Americana performers, Justin has done it not by being a chip off the old block, but by forging his own path.
Justin’s relationship with his father has been rocky over the years. Steve Earle left Justin and his mother when Justin was just 2-year-old, and the younger Earle had a tumultuous, troubled, and at times, drug-fueled childhood. But he has soldiered on to carry a name all his own.
The son of Willie Nelson’s long-time guitarist Jody Payne and Grammy Award-winning country music singer Sammi Smith, Waylon is named after his Godfather, Waylon Jennings. Raised by his aunt and uncle due to his parents’ heavy touring schedules, Payne attended seminary after high school and was on track to become a minister before catching the music bug. For a while Payne was part of the popular Eastbound and Down country night at the King King Club in Hollywood where performers would swap classic country songs. Payne later released the album The Drifter in 2004 through Republic Universal.
Music isn’t Waylon Payne’s only creative calling though. He may be known more as an actor than a musician. In the award-winning Johnny Cash film I Walk The Line, Payne played Jerry Lee Lewis. He also played country great Hank Garland in a small film called Crazy, along with making numerous television appearances, including on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Hank Williams III (or Hank3)Â
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr., if there was ever a spitting image of country music’s first superstar, it would be him. He not only carries the visage and build of Hank Sr., but also the voice and writing style when he wants to go in that direction. The youngest Hank though has a hankering to delve into the wild side of music as well, and has released multiple punk albums during his career that has now stretched into two decades.
Hank3 started out playing drums and guitar in underground punk bands, with no real drive to be a part of the country music machine. But when a paternity suit put him in court, he decided to sign with Curb Records, and entered into a tumultuous period with the label that at the least resulted in multiple landmark records, including the neo-traditional country stalwart Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’, and his double album opus Straight to Hell. Hank3 is now an independent artist, and carries on the family tradition of doing the music he wants and defying expectation.
The granddaughter of Hank Williams, daughter of Hank Jr., and half sister of Hank Williams III has had a somewhat strange musical journey, but one that has seen her bloom recently to become one of the leading females in country/Americana, keeping the music true to its roots while moving it forward.
Holly’s early career saw her sign to major labels like Universal South and Mercury Nashville, trying to break into the big time, but always seemingly with one foot in, and one foot out of that mainstream approach to music. She was also seriously injured in a near fatal crash in 2006 along with her sister Hilary who also is a performer. Then in February of 2013, Holly released The Highway independently, and since then has become a critical darling and a live performer not to miss. Though there were some that at times wondered if Holly was just a famous name, she’s proven recently that she’s so much more.
The son of Merle Haggard and an official member of Merle’s legendary backing band The Strangers, Ben is a chip off the old block when it comes to slinging Telecasters and perfecting the West Coast, twangy Bakersfield tradition of loud and electric country music. Patterned in the mold of the pioneer of the craft, the under-appreciated Roy Nichols, Ben can be seen plying his craft and staring at the back of his father on any given night out on the road. This isn’t just your usual slot filled by a family member on stage. Ben’s skills are regarded by his musician peers as being standalone from any famous name.
The only child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, Shooter started his musical journey in the rock band Stargunn before signing with Universal South in 2005 and releasing his first country record, Put The ‘O’ Back In Country. He subsequently released two more country records infused with some Southern rock & roll before putting out his rock opus, the experimental album Black Ribbons. Shooter re-established his country roots with the 2012 album Family Man, followed up by 2013′s The Other Life.
Like many of country music’s famous sons and daughters, Shooter Jennings marches to his own drum, but always seems to come back to the country music fold.
Jubal Lee Young
Son of legendary Outlaw country songwriter and performer Steve Young (Lonesome, Onry & Mean, Seven Bridges Road), and songwriter Terrye Newkirk, Jubal Lee Young from Muskogee, Oklahoma put out an album in 2011 called Take It Home that included the song “There Ain’t No Outlaws Any More” that loudly proclaims, “Here comes another badass sellinâ Nashville rock and roll, long hair, denim and tattoos, lookinâ onâry and mean. Singinâ songs about that lonesome road, some of âem might even be true. But there ainât no outlaws anymoreâŚ”
Hank Williams Jr.
The most obvious and most successful of country music’s greatest sons, Hank Williams Jr. is very likely a future country music Hall of Famer, and has won multiple CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards and sold millions of albums. He started out his career as a virtual impersonator of his famous father, but rebelled against this preordained future to become so much more. Hank Jr. took a precipitous fall off of Ajax Mountain in Montana in 1975, landing on his face, and having to go through multiple surgeries before he could return to performing. And when he did, he quickly became known as “Rockin’” Randall Hank as he emerged with a sound that was just as much Southern rock as country.
In the mid 80′s, Hank Williams Jr. was one of country’s biggest stars, and now sits as a legend in the genre. He also is responsible for two other famous country offspring: Hank Williams III and Holly Williams, and a 2nd daughter Hilary Williams has also been a performer.
The only daughter of the country music super pairing of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Georgette was said to have a recording contract on the day she was born. She recorded her first song at the ripe age of ten with her dad called “Daddy Come Home.” From there Georgette began singing backup for her mom, and she has gone on to become an accomplished songwriter and solo performer herself. Georgette has released numerous albums, including three for Heart of Texas Records. Her latest album Til I Can Make It On My Own is a tribute to her mother.
Georgette also appeared in the TV Series Sordid Lives and recorded numerous songs for the soundtrack, including Tammy Wynette tunes. She also recently released a memoir called The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George, Georgette Jones.
Daughter of David Allan Coe, Shelli was born in Nashville and raised in Austin, and appeared at the tender age of 3-years-old on her father’s Family Album project. She later worked as a backup singer for her father before landing in Branson, MO for a while where she performed in clubs, collaborated with other songwriters and appeared on the album Branson Songwriters Out in the Streets. Shelli subsequently returned to Austin where she is known to perform off and on. Her first full-length CD A Girl Like Me was released in 2010, and is worth a listen for folks that like traditional country music.
Surrounded by a bevy of musical siblings and one awfully famous father, the argument can be made that Lukas was the Willie offspring that received the most potent douse of Willie’s musical genes, and has a powerful voice to match his father’s. A dynamic, top-flight performer with a sound that trends much closer to rock than country, but still has an earthy, rootsy feel nonetheless, Lukas is on a fast track to becoming a superstar all his own.
From his towering leg kicks, to playing the guitar with his teeth, at only 23-years-old, Lukas could already be crowned as a guitar god. Leading his band The Promise of the Real, they’ve made waves in the music world on big tours. About the only thing holding the young star back is that rock music is in a weird spot right now, and guitar blazers are not what the masses are particularly looking for. But like his father, Lukas is not worried about anything but following his heart, and he promises to have a very bright future ahead of him with a tower of talent to draw from.
Son of Outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver, Eddie Shaver was one of the best country music guitar shredders to ever take the stage. Aside from being his fatherâs right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakamâs guitar player for the first two years of Dwight’s career.
Itâs only because of Eddieâs untimely death that heâs not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.
Though one might first think of June Carter as more of a mother of famous country artists instead of a daughter of them, June Carter is arguably the first daughter of country music. Her mother is “Mother” Maybelle Carter, given her nickname for being the mother of her performing daughters, and arguably the mother of country music. June began performing at the age of ten in 1939 as part of the landmark country outfit The Carter Family. It was through their mutual love of country music that she would eventually meet and fall in love with Johnny Cash, and the two went on to be one of country music’s powerhouse couples. June Carter was a muti-instrumentalist with a classic voice, and defines the nexus between country music’s primitive, classic, and modern eras.
It can be easy to overlook just what kind of impact Rosanne Cash has had on American music over the years. She seems to always be overshadowed by her father, by other famous sons and daughters of country legends, measured against them, and dogged by preceding labels that donât always allow her to be judged on her own merit, while her musical accomplishments veer towards being somewhat misunderstood because sheâs not always been nestled smack dab in the country realm as people want, expect, or anticipate.
But Rosanneâs critical and commercial accomplishments are far more than complimentary, they define a very successful career: Eleven #1 country singles, twenty-one Top 40 singles, and thirteen Grammy nominations is nothing to sniff at, and ultimately might at least get her mentions as a potential Hall of Fame inductee.
The only offspring between the country music super marriage of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John Carter Cash has spent his time as a singer and performer, but many of his important contributions to country music have come behind-the-scenes as a producer, songwriter, author, and general champion of the Cash estate and all things country music. It’s remarkable how many places you see John Carter’s name attached to projects as his puts effort out to make music happen in whatever capacity he can help in. Like his father, he has that selfless streak of service that surfaces in some of the most generous and cool ways.
Bobby Bare Jr.
Born in Nashville, TN to the original Outlaw Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr. grew up next door to Tammy Wynette and George Jones in Hendersonville, and was nominated for a Grammy next to his father for the Shel Silverstein-written song “Daddy What If” from his father’s tribute album to Silverstein. Fronting roots rock bands like “Bare Jr.” and “Young Criminals Starvation League”, Bare’s career has been the result of avoiding “working a real job at any cost,” despite earning a psychology degree from the University of Tenessee, and not really getting deep into his own music until later in life. His high energy on stage and dark sarcasm in his songs have won him fans worldwide.
Other Famous Sons & Daughters:
Pam Tillis – 1994 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, and daughter of country great Mel Tillis
The Carter Family Daughters – Carlene Carter, Helen Carter, Anita Carter, Rosie Nix Adams.
Jett Williams – Daughter of Hank Williams that found out about her famous father later in life. Jett has been a performer and plays an important role as one of the executors of the Hank Williams estate.
Jesse Keith Whitley – Son of Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley
Marty Haggard, Noel Haggard, and Scott Haggard- More performing sons of Merle.
Dean Miller – Son of Roger Miller
Lilly Hiatt – Daughter of John Hiatt
Chelsea Crowell – Daughter of Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell
Paula Nelson – Leader of The Paul Nelson Band.
Tyler Mahan Coe – Guitar player and writer who spent years touring in his father’s band.
Folk Uke – Made up Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy, and Arlo Guthrie’s daughter Cathy.
Whey Jennings – The son of Terry Jennings, and grandson of Waylon Jennings.
Lucas Hubbard – Son of Ray Wylie Hubbard who often plays lead guitar with his father.
Lucky Tubb – Not technically a son or daughter, but a great nephew of Ernest.
Bluegrass – There are many performing sons and daughters of famous bluegrass musicians, but for fear of forgetting some and getting yelled at for it, this sentence is in dedication to them all. You rock! Or pick, or strum, or pluck! Go YOU!
Tuesday was the release of Jerrod Niemann’s dumb new album High Noon, and before we’ve even had a chance to really delve into just how much of a mockery it makes of country music, Niemann’s already out there on the defensive, preaching to us how country “purists” really don’t know what the hell country music is all about, and how he’s just carrying on the traditions of Willie and Waylon by pushing the boundaries of the genre.
High Noon‘s first single “Drink To That All Night” drove country more in the direction of EDM than ever before, to the point where I’m not sure what’s country about it aside from the stupid, formulaic, country stereotyping lyrics. The second single from the album called “Donkey” promises to take this trend to a place many shades worse, and very well might go down as the worst song in the history of country music in this bear’s opinion—but that’s another story. A further perusing of High Noon‘s wares shows a lackluster effort of EDM and hip hop pandering veering towards a pop wasteland with little redeeming value afforded to distressed ears searching for any single reason why it shouldn’t be considered any more than some EDM/country mashup side project instead of a premier solo effort from an established country artist.
But that hasn’t stooped Jerrod Niemann from naming himself amidst country music’s Outlaw pioneers.
“When people think about country music, and they use the term ‘Traditional Country,’ they’re talking about something that has happened in the past,” Niemann tells Billboard. “But, when those songs were out currently, they were the freshest thing on the radio. Nobody was saying ‘Let’s go record traditional country.’ They just wanted to record music that meant something to them. Willie and Waylon were getting flack for being progressive at the time because they were mixing it with rock and the outlaw thing.”
Sorry Niemann, but that’s bullshit. Were there some voices saying that Willie and Waylon were pushing the boundaries of country music too far back in the day? Sure there were, and Saving Country Music has pointed this out before as well. But…
1) This had just as much to do with the fear people had of Willie and Waylon because they were shaking up the established Music Row system as it had anything to do with their music.
2) Willie & Waylon’s new take on country music was nowhere near outside the boundaries of country compared to what some artists are doing today. The musical equivalent to High Noon if Willie and Waylon would have done it would have been to cut straight up Disco records with country lyricism and called it country—and then thrown it back into the faces of critics before they even had a chance to raise a peep because Hank Williams was criticized too.
3) Oh an sorry Jerrod, but yes, Waylon and Willie did say, “Let’s go record traditional country.”
For example: What was Willie Nelson’s breakout album during the mid 70′s Outlaw era? Red Headed Stranger—the consensus pick by critics as the greatest country album of all time. What was the biggest single off of Red Headed Stranger, and really the only single of note from the album? It was a song called “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was a traditional country standard when Willie cut it. The song was written by Fred Rose, originally recorded by Roy Acuff in 1945—30 years before the release of Red Headed Stranger. It was also cut by Hank Williams in 1951, Ferlin Husky and Slim Whitman in 1959, and Bill Anderson in 1962 among others. Red Headed Stranger also had other classic country songs such as Eddy Arnold’s “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True” and a hymn called “Just As I Am” that get this Jerrod Niemann, was written in 1835, making it over 140 years old when Willie cut it. So saying that Willie didn’t say, “‘Let’s go record traditional country,” is completely bogus. One can make the argument that’s exactly what Willie said, and it resulted in arguably country music’s greatest contemporary work.
Meanwhile Waylon may have had a touch more rock in his sound compared to Willie or his other country artists of the time, but the backbone of his music was the steel guitar of country veteran Ralph Mooney, and Waylon was cutting songs like “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” and “Bob Wills Is Still The King” that paid homage to traditional country greats. Then take a look at the lineup of The Dripping Springs Reunion—the gathering that arguably put the power of Willie and Waylon on the map. It included Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, and other aging country greats that at the time were being forgotten by Music Row. Even as Willie and Waylon were rising in prominence, they were paying homage to the ones that came before them.
“I’ve always tried to respectfully add a few elements here and there,” Niemann tells Billboard. Are you kidding me? “Drink To That All Night,” Donkey,” and other offerings from Niemann’s High Noon aren’t respectful to anything but his label’s bottom line. Take a look at this video and tell me the non-country elements are just “here and there”:
The problem with Jerrod Niemann, the reason he’s even worse than many of his current pop country cohorts is because he knows better. I have no doubt Florida Georgia Line grew up listening to mixtapes with Hank Williams Jr. on one side, and Drake on the other. To Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain are classic country. But Jerrod Niemann is 34-years-old. He’s not trying to push limits, this is last ditch effort to get attention from the industry in a no hold’s barred, sellout move to secure his share of the fortune being made off the destruction of country music. And no matter how much he wants to be in front of this issue, how much he preaches falsehoods about how country music once was, he’s simply a sellout in a woman’s Ross Dress For Less discount bin hat—and certainly no progeny of Willie or Waylon.
I’m not certain that the impact of Johnny Cash getting dropped from the CBS/Columbia record label that had been his home for nearly 30 years has ever been fully appreciated. It truly was the end of an era, or the beginning of one depending on how you want to look at it. It stimulated a young Marty Stuart (an understudy of Cash) to get int the face ofÂ Columbia executive, resulting in him eventually being ejected from the label. It made Merle Haggard tell Rick Blackburn, the man responsible for Cash’s firing, “Youâre the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that youâre the dumbest son-of-a-bitch Iâve ever met.” And it also meant that an entire, cohesive album from one of the most well-respected artists in the history of American music went unheard for 30 years after its original recording. This is the type of peril American music is put through at the hands of suits, that such a ridiculous, unintuitive aberration could transpire in the custody of one person’s art, especially the art of Johnny Cash.
Out Among The Stars is a difficult album to critique. Since it was originally crafted to be heard by the public some 30 years ago, with stylings and sensibilities more steeped in the country modes of that time, it’s hard to know how to calibrate your ear to this music. Compounding this problem is the information that some, or all of the tracks have been “fortified” by a team that included Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and others to be more akin to what a modern ear might expect. Then you pile on top of all of that the fact that some of these songs like “She Used To Love Me A Lot” and “Out Among The Stars” have already wormed themselves into our brains with versions from other artists. It would not be fair to call Cash’s versions “cover” songs because of the way the timeline sits. They are simply Cash’s takes of contemporary tunes that were never heard because of the nature of this project. Nonetheless you can’t help but compare these “new” versions to the ones you’re more familiar with.
While you’re listening to Out Among The Stars, you almost feel like Marty McFly contemplating the strange space-time continuum this project puts you in, asking yourself, “Would the 1984 me like this? And do I like it now?” The mid 80′s was its own strange time in country music as well. Just listen to the introduction to Willie Nelson’s version of “Pancho & Lefty”. Johnny Cash amidst his recovery from drug addiction wasn’t the only one trying to find his compass; the entire genre of country was. The original Out Among The Stars sessions were produced by Billy Sherrill of all people—a producer known as one of the masterminds of the countrypolitan or Nashville Sound. As strange as it was for him to be working with Johnny Cash, at the same time he was working with wildman David Allan Coe, trying to revitalize Coe’s career as well. Billy Sherrill—one of the principles the Outlaws had risen up against—was now one of their brothers in arms. A strange time in country indeed.
Then you take the emotional quotient of simply being able to hear the legendary voice of Johnny Cash again in completely unheard, studio-quality content, and it’s hard to hold onto any and all objectivity. Even ifÂ Out Among The Stars was a verbatim recitation of the Nashville Metropolitan phone book circa 1984, this album is a gift from beyond that any sane country music fan would dare not stare too long in the mouth.
The reason that Out Among The Stars became “lost,” and Johnny Cash got dropped from Columbia is because nobody knew what to do with him, including Johnny himself. In some respects, the song material on this album is somewhat indicative of this searching for direction. It is sort of the take of two Johnnys—one introspective, dark, and even disturbed at times, and the other the more “aw-shucks” Arkansas boy. Musically, whether the fault of Sherill or the super-team assembled to deal with the recordings in the present day, is where Out Among The Stars shows cohesion and confidence. Though some of the songs might be more fit for the 80′s country listener, the music throughout is timeless.
The somewhat cornpone and timecasted song “If I Told You Who It Was” is where the album most shows off it’s 80′s stripes, but Cash’s versions of “Out Among The Stars” and “She Used To Love Me A Lot”, the melancholic “Call Your Mother,” to the downright sadistic “I Drove Her Out Of My Mind” are right in the mode of classic Johnny Cash whose willing to delve deep into the darker side of life. These are balanced by the sweet and simple approach of songs like “Tennessee” that expires in an uplifting chorus signature to Billy Sherrill’s touch, and the sweet duets with June Carter “Don’t You Think It’s Come” and “Baby Ride Easy”. The organ/piano combination, combined with the fairly sappy lyrics of “After All” might make it the album’s most forgettable track, while “Rock & Roll Shoes” and the cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” with Waylon Jennings check in as the album’s most fun tunes.
Johnny Cash left music, and left the world behind at the top of his game, having been revitalized and resurrected in the public consciousness as the result of his American Recordings era, leaving the crowd wanting more as all great entertainers do. Though Out Among The Stars may not reach the high critical acclaim Cash set for himself in the last era of his career, it is a more than worthy offering allowing the Man in Black to once again live among us in our hearts and imaginations, leaving the listener ruminating on the historic accomplishments of a man whose musical accomplishments will never be equaled.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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You can’t go long talking about badasses in country music without bringing up the one, the only Billy Joe Shaver. Though he may have never received the recognition of Willie, Waylon, or even Coe or Paycheck, his influence is arguably just important. When you have Elvis cutting one of your songs, Willie Nelson calling you his favorite songwriter, have Bob Dylan name dropping you, and had none other than Waylon Jennings record an entire album of your work, there’s no doubt you’re a badass.
Here’s 10 Badass moments from Billy Joe Shaver.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
1. Growing Up In Honky Tonks …. Literally
If Billy Joe Shaver is anything, he’s the real deal, and as clichĂŠ as it may sound, his life was like a country song if there ever was one. Shaver was born in Corsicana, TX, and his dad left his mom before he was even born. Left to fend for herself, Shaver’s mother would leave him with his grandmother in Corsicana so she could work in honky tonks in Waco, but sometimes the young, impressionable Shaver would accompany his mother to the big town.
For a while Shaver’s mom ran a Waco honky tonk called Green Gables. According to Waylon Jennings, “She was a good-looking woman, red-headed and tough, and it was a classic dive, a dance hall with sawdust on the floor, spittoons, and a piano in the corner.” Billy Joe would run around the place bumming nickels from soldiers from nearby Fort Hood, and by the time he got a little older was known as quite a dancer and ladies man. His whole Green Gables childhood experience was later recapped in the song “Honky Tonk Heroes” that became the title track of Waylon Jennings’ famous 1973 album featuring all Billy Joe Shaver songs except for one.
2. Getting Four Fingers Lopped Off At A Lumber Mill
Talk about tough and gritty, Billy Joe Shaver has the scars to prove it. He didn’t get involved in music seriously until he was nearly 30, and it’s partly due to a lumber mill accident he suffered back in the 60′s when he severed off a good portion of two fingers and parts of two others when his right hand got hung up in a piece of machinery. A post-accident infection eventually made it even worse. Since Shaver was a right paw, it made him virtually worthless as a general laborer, and so he turned to music as a living.
According to Waylon Jennings, Shaver has a sense of humor about his missing digits.
“He was sitting on a bed one time playing guitar,” Waylon recalls. “And a guy who worked for me came in and said, ‘Billy Joe, if you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your fingers?’ Billy started glancing around and digging in his pocket. ‘Damn,’ he said. ‘They were here just a while ago.’”
3. Hitchhiking to Los Angeles … and ending up in Nashville.
When Billy Joe Shaver decided to give country music a serious go, he got advice from old friend Willie Nelson to head out to Nashville. But Billy Joe Shaver didn’t listen, and instead decided to point his nose towards Los Angeles. Not having a car, and without any money for a bus, Billy Joe stood on the side of Interstate 10 in Texas, waiting for someone westward bound to pick him up. And he waited, and waited, and nobody stopped. Eventually Shaver got so frustrated, he switched over to the other side of the highway heading east. The first car that passed him stopped, picked him up, and took Shaver all the way to Memphis, TN. He then made his way to Nashville, where he soon had a job writing songs for $50 a week. The rest is history.
The experience was later recalled in part in the Billy Joe Shaver song, “Ride Me Down Easy”.
4. Threatening to Kick Waylon’s Ass If He Didn’t Record His Songs
Waylon Jennings decided to record an entire album of Billy Joe Shaver songs in 1973 called Honky Tonk Heroes, and that was the turning point in both men’s career. Waylon was finally flexing his creative freedom, and Billy Joe would forever be on the country music map. But it didn’t happen pretty. Bobby Bare introduced Shaver to Waylon and after Waylon heard “Ride Me Down Easy,” he fell in love with Shaver’s music and first floated the idea of recording an entire album of his songs. Later at the Dripping Springs Reunion in Texas, Waylon heard “Willie & The Wandering Gypsy,” and loved that one too. But for one reason or another, Billy Joe was always one step behind Waylon, even though Waylon insisted he loved Billy Joe’s songs and wanted to record them, it was beginning to look like it was never going to happen. At one point Billy Joe Shaver began to bug Waylon so bad, he reportedly offered Billy Joe $100 just to leave him alone.
“…I was always in a meeting or on another call or ‘not in.’” Waylon recalls. “This went on for months….He caught me one night at RCA recording. ‘I got these songs,’ he said, ‘and if you don’t listen to them, I’m going to kick your ass right here in front of everybody.”
“He could have been killed there and then by some of my friends lining the walls,” Waylon continues. “But I took Billy Joe in a back room and said, ‘Hoss, you don’t do things like that. I’m going to listen to one song, and if it ain’t no good, I’m telling you goodbye. We ain’t never going to talk again.’ Billy played me ‘Old Five and Dimers,’ and then kept on going. He had a whole sackful of songs, and by the time he ran out of breath, I wanted to record all of them.”
5. Being The Father of Eddie Shaver
The name may not ring a bell to you right off the bat, but for those familiar know that Billy Joe Shaver’s son was one of the best country music shredders to ever fill the spot. Aside from being his father’s right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player for the first two years.
It’s only because of Eddie’s untimely death that he’s not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.
6. Surviving the Death of His Mother, Wife, and Son In a Very Short Period
Shaver has been tested many times in his life and suffered through some rough patches, but few have suffered through what shaver did near the turn of the Century. In 1999, Billy Joe Shaver lost both his mother, Victory, and his wife, Brenda, to Cancer. The next year is when his son, guitar player, and right hand man Eddie Shaver died of a heroin overdose. It was a very dark period for Shaver, and it became even darker when he was performing at Gruene Hall in Texas on Independence Day in 2001 and suffered a massive heart attack on stage. Shaver nearly died, and had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery.
But he soldiered on, releasing a new album called Freedom’s Child in 2002.
7. Shooting A Man in Self Defense at Papa Joe’s (“Where Do You Want It?”)
Shooting a man in the face could be either very badass, or not badass at all depending on how you look at it. But when you take into account Billy reportedly did it in self-defense and was so found by a jury of his peers and acquitted of all charges, it’s hard not to include the story here, especially seeing how the whole incident inspired its own famous song.
On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in a saloon called Papa Joeâs in Waco, TX drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaverâs drink with a knife. After some words were exchanged, Shaver decided it was time to leave, and Billy Coker followed. Out in the parking lot, Billy Joe Shaver was overheard asking Coker, âWhere do you want it?â while brandishing a small handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, âWhy do you want to do this?â to Coker, but either way, eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face.
The news made it down to Austin where Dale Watson decided to write a song about it. âWe were making jokes about what kind of song heâd write about this âcause he writes songs about everything,â says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joeâs thatâs been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Cokerâs wound was not life-threatening, and Shaver was arrested on April 2nd, 2007 for aggravated assault, later to be found not guilty for acting in self-defense in a trial that saw Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall as a character witnesses. Dale Watson wrote “Where Do You Want It?”, but Whitey Morgan & The 78â˛s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Daleâs blessing. Dale later cut it on his album El Rancho Azul. Willie Nelson also wrote a song about the incident called, “I Want My Bullet Back.”
8. Singing the Opening Theme to The Squidbillies
When Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim launched a series about anthropomorphic hillbilly squids living in the Appalachian portion of Georgia, who better to contract for the theme song than Billy Joe Shaver? The song itself is actually called “Warrior Man.”
9. Being Deemed a Hero by Willie Nelson
Long-time friend Willie Nelson has never turned his back on Billy Joe, even in his darkest hour. When Billy Joe was accused of shooting a man in Waco, Willie offered himself up as a character witness. Willie has called Billy Joe Shaver his favorite songwriter. A couple of years ago Willie offered his services up to cut a duet with Billy Joe called “Wacko from Waco.” And Willie proved his love and loyalty for his long-time friend on his 2012 comeback album on Sony called Heroes. The default title track of the album “Hero” not only features Billy Joe Shaver, but is about Billy Joe Shaver and how it seems he’s been forgotten by time.
10. Being The Most Badass Country Music Performers in His 70′s
If you have seen Billy Joe Shaver perform recently, you know what I mean. And if you have never seen Billy Joe Shaver perform, you better get on it.
At 74, with a replaced knee, bum shoulder, and quadruple bypass, Billy Joe Shaver comes out kicking, punching, gesticulating like crazy, putting on one of the best, most-energetic country music shows from a performer of any age. It isn’t one of those shows with a solitary spotlight shone on a stool at stage center, it is full tilt country rock, rowdy and rambunctious, fueled by one of the best young bands you will find backing up a legend.
Former Hootie & The Blowfish frontman turned country artist Darius Rucker was on sports personality Dan Patrick’s radio show Tuesday (3-4), and had some interesting things to say about who the new torch bearers are for country music’s Outlaw legacy. Outlaw artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, and Johnny Paycheck shook up the country music world in the mid 70′s by re-instituting a harder country sound and taking back control of their music, and now according to Darius Rucker and Dan Patrick, the new Willie and Waylon is Luke Bryan and Eric Church.
The Darius Rucker interview starts out with Dan Patrick giving some playful ribs to Rucker about his lack of country music bad boy credentials. “I mentioned at the end of last hour that, you know, Luke Bryan’s the new bad boy, and Eric Church is the new bad boy in country,” said Patrick. “Darius Rucker can’t be a bad boy ’cause he was the lead singer of Hootie & The Blowfish. Right? No matter what …. How can you be a bad boy? You know you can’t be Tim [McGraw], you can’t be Hank Williams. You know, you were Hootie & The Blowfish.”
“That’s funny but true,” Rucker responds, laughing. “You’re absolutely right. I’m always going to be country lite, there’s nothing I can do about that … Brad [Paisley]‘s not a bad boy. Rascal Flatts, they’re not bad boys. Not everyone can be a bad boy. You know, that’s cool.”
Then Dan Patrick asks, “But there’s so much money in country now that can you be a bad boy and be crazy like Waylon and Willie used to be?”
“Yeah man, we’ve still got those guys,” Rucker says. “You know, Jamey Johnson, he’s a bad boy that’s for sure, and he’s doing well. You know, like you said Luke and Eric, Eric’s probably the closest we got to Waylon & Willie I think.”
This was not the first time Darius Rucker has made interesting statements on the Dan Patrick Show. In November of 2013, Darius said on the show that he thought he deserved a Grammy nomination for his cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show / Bob Dylan song “Wagon Wheel” or quote “country music’s screwed.” Dan Patrick and Darius Rucker are good friends, going back to the time when Darius was winning Grammy Awards with Hootie & The Blowfish.
You can see the entire interview below.
Today would have been Johnny Cash’s 82nd birthday, but apropos to his nature, he’s the one giving the gifts.
Ahead of the release of Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among The Stars due on March 25th, the Johnny Cash Official website has made available the opportunity for you to listen to the title track of the album by signing in either through Facebook or email. And then if you wish, you can make a birthday wish to Johnny Cash and light up a star on the background of the website that others can then scroll over read (don’t worry, it’s easy).
Out Among The Stars is a complete album that was recorded between 1981 and 1984 by Cash, with songs that were meant to be together, but never saw the light of day. A true âlost albumâ if there ever was one. It was produced by Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill who was also the president of CBS Records at the time, and the pairing was meant to create something special; something that could re-ignite Johnny Cashâs career.
Out Among The Stars features 12 tracks, including a duet with Waylon Jennings, and two duets with Cashâs wife, June Carter Cash. The recordings also feature Country Hall of Fame keys player Hargus âPigâ Robbins, and a young Marty Stuart. Legacy Recordings had Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, and Jerry Douglas âfortifyâ the recordings for the release.
Fans has already been able to listen to “She Used to Love Me A Lot,” and a duet with Waylon Jennings “I’m Movin’ On” (listen below).
George Jones. The Possum. Possibly the man whose life and story embody the themes of a country song better than anyone. From rags to riches, back to rags, and eventually onto rehabilitation and redemption, George Jones was a man that faced demons more fierce than any of us can imagine, and eventually came out on top. Was he a badass? You bet, and here’s 10 reasons why.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
1. Flipping the Dinner Table at Tammy Wynette’s House
Before George and Tammy were married, George went over to Tammy’s house one night to have dinner with her and her then husband, songwriter Don Chapel. George knew Tammy through their mutual booking agent. While fixing dinner, Tammy and Don Chapel got in a heated argument, resulting on Don calling Tammy a “son of a bitch” in front of George. George, secretly hiding his admiration with Tammy, lost it.
“I felt rage fly all over me,” Jones said in his autobiography. “I jumped from my chair, put my hands under the dinner table, and flipped it over. Dishes, utensils, and glasses flew in all directions. Don’s and Tammy’s eyes got about as big as the flying dinner plates.”
George professed his love for Tammy right then and there, and the country music couple were soon married.
2. Helping To Found ACE — The Association of Country Entertainers
George Jones was never considered an Outlaw, but he participated in one of the most significant precursors to country music’s Outlaw revolution in the mid 70′s. Some know the story of Charlie Rich burning the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year at the CMA’s in 1975, but it was the year prior when the stink had begun about performers outside of the country genre walking away with the industry’s accolades. Olivia Newton-John’s win in 1974 for Female Vocalist of the Year caused such a stir that traditional and even pop-leaning country performers at the time organized behind the acronym “ACE” that stood for “Association of Country Entertainers”.
Spearheading ACE was George Jones and then wife Tammy Wynette, and the inaugural meeting of ACE was held at their Tennessee residence. Other participants in ACE included Dolly Parton, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Conway Twitty, Hank Snow, Mel Tillis, Barbara Mandrell and more than a dozen others. ACE demanded more representation of traditional artists on the CMA’s Board of Directors, and more balance on country radio playlists (does any of this sound familiar?).
Just how successful ACE was can be argued, but it was the precursor to future organizations looking to restore balance and better representation from the CMA, and helped usher in country music’s Outlaw movement and the return to a more traditional sound that the mid 70′s saw in country.
3. Riding a Lawnmower to the Liquor Store
The first and most well-documented lawnmower incident was the late 60â˛s. George Jones was living 8 miles outside of Beaumont, TX with his then wife Shirley Ann Corley. Jones had experienced a few #1 hits by that time, and his success fueled his wayward ways with alcohol. He was drinking so bad, his wife Shirley resorted to hiding all the keys to the vehicles before she would leave the house so George wouldnât drive to the nearest liquor store in Beaumont.
But that didnât stop him. After tearing the house apart looking for a set of keys one time, George looked out the window to see a riding lawnmower sitting on the property under the glow of a security light. âThere, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition,â George recalled in his autobiography. âI imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.â
The second, lesser-known incident of George Jones’s escapades on a riding lawnmower happened when he was married to Tammy Wynette. Taking a cue from Georgeâs previous wife Shirley, Tammy hid all the keys from George, but George had been down that road before. Wynette woke up one night at 1 AM to find George missing. âI got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away,â Tammy recounted in 1979. âWhen I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. Heâd driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, `Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you sheâd come after me.â”
The George Jones lawnmower incidents later went on to be memorialized in many country videos, including Hank Williams Jr.âs âAll My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” Vince Gillâs 1993 hit âOne More Last ChanceâÂ that includes the line, âShe might have took my car keys, but she forgot about my old John Deere,” and John Richâs âCountry Done Come to Town,” and George’s own “Honky Tonk Song.”
4. Recording “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
Yes, it could be easy to highlight George’s signature song and say it was awesome for him to cut it, but the story behind “He Stopped Loving Her Today” goes much deeper. The song not only saved George’s career, it potentially saved his life, and all of this is from a song that at first he didn’t want to record because he thought it was too depressing, too long, and nobody would play it. It eventually became his first #1 in six years, salvaged his career, introduced him to a new generation of fans, and solidified his place as one of country music’s biggest ever superstars. Jones himself says about it, “A four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song.”
Written by Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Braddock (who you can argue would not be a Hall of Famer if it weren’t for the song), along with Curly Putnam, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” went on to spend 18 weeks at #1, won the Grammy for Best Male Country Performance in 1980, both the ACM for Single and Song of the Year, and was the Song of the Year from the CMA’s for 1980 and 1981. After George’s death, the song re-entered the charts at #21. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” deserves to be in that elite class of songs that can be argued are the greatest country music songs of all time.
5. Being The Best Male Duet Partner in the History of Country Music
When you have the best voice in country music, your services as a duet partner are going to be called on early and often. And despite George’s body of solo work being worthy of a Hall of Fame career, his work as a duet partner is unparallelled itself. Country music stars young and old, male and female lined up to take advantage of his voice over many decades, and duets accounted for five of the fourteen #1 hits George had over his storied career. Here’s a rundown of just some of the people George performed duets with over the years:
â˘Tammy Wynette â˘Loretta Lynn â˘Buck Owens â˘Waylon Jennings â˘Willie Nelson â˘Johnny Cash â˘Dolly Parton â˘David Allan Coe â˘Jerry Lee Lewis â˘Hank Williams Jr. â˘Patty Loveless â˘Lynn Anderson â˘Emmylou Harris â˘Ricky Skaggs â˘Garth Brooks â˘Tracy Lawrence â˘Charlie Daniels â˘Marty Stuart â˘Merle Haggard â˘Ralph Stanley â˘Randy Travis â˘Vince Gill â˘Alan Jackson â˘Sammy Kershaw â˘Shelby Lynn â˘Mark Chesnutt â˘Travis Tritt â˘Barbara Mandrell â˘Brenda Lee â˘Shooter Jennings â˘The Staple Singers â˘Keith Richards â˘B.B. King
6. Walking out of the CMA Awards
Ahead of the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was enjoying yet another resurgence in his career. Jones was slated to perform the song “Choices” on the CMA’s, but when producers insisted he must sing an abbreviated version, he walked out of the ceremonies and boycotted the show.
In a super act of class and solidarity, Alan Jackson halfway through his performance of “Pop A Top,” stopped down and shifted gears to perform “Choices” in protest. The event has gone on to be considered one of the biggest moments of country protest in the history of the genre.
7. Recording “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”
Throughout his career, George Jones held fast to the ideals of traditional country music, and wasn’t afraid to fight for them, or speak out about what was happening in the genre. And as one of the few artists who registered hits in multiple decades (according to Billboard, Jones had more “hits” than any other country artist), when George Jones spoke, people listened.
George’s song “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” comes from the 1985 album of the same name, and was written by Troy Seals and Max D. Barnes. It’s a poignant tribute to the history of country music and its previous greats, while calling attention to the abandonment of country’s roots. The song was so potent, the phrase “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” has become one of the most popular go-to colloquialisms concerning the state of country. The song was also a hit, rising to #3 on the Billboard country chart in 1985.
8. Overcoming His Personal Demons
Some people assume that becoming a rich celebrity solves many of your problems, when for many artists it exposes and fuels their problems. Such was the case for George Jones, who had major issues with alcohol, and later in his career, drugs. At one point in 1979, despite being one of the best-selling artists in the history of country music, he was bankrupt and destitute, living in his car, weighing around 100 pounds and living off of junk food. George spent time in mental institutions tied to his drinking multiple times and had to be straighjacketed on numerous occasions. He became known as “No Show Jones” because he missed so many engagements over his career.
But in many ways George Jone’s bad behavior only helped his reputation. His fans didn’t turn on him, they loved him more because they could relate to him and their own personal struggles, and because he was such a great artist and performer when he would show. Alan Jackson once said about Jones, “…what I like most about George is that when you meet him, he is like some ole guy that works down at the gas station…even though he’s a legend!”
Waylon Jennings and others first helped get George Jones sober in the early 80′s, and the result was a resurgence in his career. However later in life George Jones would fall back into his old habits. George gave up drinking and drugs for good in 1999 after wrecking his car and spending two weeks in the hospital. After the crash he pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges. Jones told Billboard later, “…when I had that wreck I made up my mind, it put the fear of God in me. No more smoking, no more drinking. I didn’t have to have no help, I made up my mind to quit. I don’t crave it.”
9. Wanting to Die Performing
Some artists perform because they want to, others perform because they have to. In March of 2012, George Jones was hospitalized with an upper respiratory infection. The 80-year-old performer was having trouble breathing, and it was thought that he didn’t have much more time before his lungs would fail him. Instead of heading home to recuperate and potentially prolong his life, George set to planning a 60-date farewell tour, culminating in a star-studded event set to transpire at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in November of 2013 with over 50 special performers.
According to George’s wife, before he even left on the tour, he knew he would not make it to the finale. Doctors said he was in no condition to perform or tour, but he did anyway. On April 18th, 2013 George Jones was hospitalized in Nashville, missing tour dates in Alabama and Salem. He eventually passed away on April 26th, 2013 at the age of 81.
10. Having The Greatest Male Voice in the History of Country Music
- “When people ask me who my favorite country singer is, I say, ‘You mean besides George Jones?’” — Johnny Cash
- âThe greatest voice to ever sing country music.â â Garth Brooks
- âThe second best singer in Americaâ â Frank Sinatra
- âIf we all could sound like we wanted to, weâd all sound like George Jones,â â Waylon Jennings
- âAnyone who knows or cares anything about real country music will agree that George Jones is the voice of it.â â Dolly Parton
Photos From Billy Ray Cyrus Facebook Page
Like brothers in country music arms, Shooter Jennings, the son of legendary country music Outlaw Waylon Jennings, and Billy Ray Cyrus, singer of âAchy Breaky Heartâ and father of mega pop star Miley Cyrus, met together on stage Wednesday Night (2-19) at the club “Loaded” in Hollywood, California for an installment of the Shooter-hosted “BCR Nights At Loaded” concert series. Both men sporting Aviator sunglasses, shoulder length hair, and long face shadows looked like they were cut from the same country-music-with-a-little-rock cloth as they regaled the crowd of Hollywood revelers.
Billy Ray Cyrus, fresh off the release of his 2nd version and video of “Achy Breaky Heart”—a hip hop collaboration with rapper Buck 22 complete with twerking extra-terrestrials—was the special guest of this last night in the “BCR Nights At Loaded” series. Other performers included Billy Don Burns, Jonathan Tyler, and The Dogmen.
Some may wonder what the Cyrus / Shooter connection is, but apparently the two go way back. Billy Ray tweeted out earlier in the day, “I’m going to join my old friend Shooter Jennings tonight to play a few songs…” Cyrus is known for being a huge Waylon Jennings fan, and Waylon recounted his first meeting with Billy Ray in his autobiography.
One time I was at an awards show, and I heard a voice behind me saying “Mr. Jennings, you’re like a god to me.” I turned around and it was Billy Ray Cyrus, offering his hand for me to shake. All I could think of was, if I’m your god, what does your devil look like?
No word on if the Cyrus / Shooter dynamic duo was just a one-off occurrence or if there may be more collaborations in the future.
Pictures provided by Almost Out Of Gas.
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One of the questions that comes up often in country music is “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” There’s a lot of industry country stars that would love to tell you they’re the ones, and they record songs, print up merch, and proselytize at every turn for their candidacy to fill in for the lost country greats. But beyond the glitz and the market-driven image campaigns that surround some of mainstream country’s “New Outlaws” is an artist like Whitey Morgan and his band The 78′s—a no frills, hard-charging honky tonk outfit that tours more than anyone and brings the twang and Outlaw bass beat to country night in and night out, garnering a deep and loyal grassroots following.
But it has been around three and a half years since Whitey Morgan released a record, and rumors of an unreleased live album have been out there for the better part of two. Whitey has recently been hanging around Texas, playing some shows and getting ready to make an appearance at Dale Watson’s inaugural Ameripolitan Awards show on Tuesday, February 18th, and I sat down with him before a Friday night show at The Rattle Inn in west Austin to catch up, and ask him the question Saving Country Music has been swamped with from readers over the last few months.
People ask me this all the time and so I’ll ask you: What can you tell us about new music from Whitey Morgan?
There’s definitely been some label things happening. I’m actually off Bloodshot [Records] now. That was of my doing. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of dude. I just felt like I can do all of this on my own. The next record is going to be huge. I bust my ass out on the road like almost no other band does, and everything I have is from that. It was just time for me to do something on my own and not give away too much of my money to someone who maybe wasn’t holding up their end of the deal. I’m sure they’ll argue with you on that, but that’s a record label. I have a great booking agent now and great management. I can release a record tomorrow, on my own. I have the distribution outside of a label, I have everything I need. So what do I need a label for?
What’s the story of this live album that’s been swirling out there for a while?
The live album has been done for a year and a half. That was part of the Bloodshot thing. As soon as the live album got finished and I gave it to them is when the talk started from my end that I didn’t want to be on the label any longer. Understandably, they recoiled and said “we’re not going to really release this until we resolve whatever is going to happen in this relationship first.” It will come out when it comes out, but I’ve already forgotten about it.
So a new album is in the works?
We just recorded in El Paso for five days at an unbelievable studio with an killer producer. We got three songs just about in the bag, and we’ll be back in May for seven or eight days, and try to finish up the rest of it. It’s a place called The Sonic Ranch. It’s like no other studio I’ve ever been in or even heard about. They have three live rooms and three control rooms, all on a 3,000-acre property. They have accommodations for I think up to 30 or 40 people in different haciendas. They have a staff that does your laundry and cooks every meal for you. My management is friends with the owners. I hate the studio, but I didn’t hate this studio. I didn’t feel like I was in this studio because I could leave and walk out the studio and be forty feet to my front door and it’s just me; I have my own little hotel room right there. Most studios you can’t do that. You’re stuck in there. You can go out to the parking lot and sit in the van.
Creativity is squashed by studios that don’t have that kind of environment. I almost don’t want to tell anyone about it because I don’t need any more musicians recording there than there already are. And the equipment is unreal. Not just the recording equipment, they have tele’s galore, amps, and everything. It’s unreal. Anything you want, they have it. And it’s all because a guy that has money is passionate about music and recording. To him, it’s the ultimate dream to have musicians come hang out at his place. He’s a great dude.
I’m excited. One of the songs we recorded is an old Bobby Bare tune called “That’s How I Got To Memphis”. We put that one down and I’m really excited about that tune. It’s a little different than my kind of sound. It’s kind of got that early 80′s era sound; it’s got that minor chord in there. It’s slick. I’m trying to move on without moving too far. I know what everybody wants, they want another classic, Waylon-ish sounding album. This one’s going to be a little different, but it’s not going to be that different. We’re doing a Waylon song. I’m not going to say what Waylon song we’re doing, because I don’t think anyone’s ever covered it so I’ll keep my mouth shut on that one. But that was another song we recorded and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever recorded in my life. The three songs are already leaps and bounds better than the last two albums I did.
The plan is we’re probably going to do an EP, maybe 7 songs. The plan is just to record as much as we can over the next few years. Even if it’s not albums, put out a 7-inch here and there, digitally release two songs. Just keep it going. Never a six month stretch without new songs. And now that I’ve got the studio I want to go to, I can’t wait to just start putting music out, now that I’m able to do it legally.
Who is the producer?
His name is Ryan Hewitt. He’s one of those guys who’s been in a lot of sessions where he was either mixing or engineering or co-producing. He mixed a lot of the Johnny Cash stuff with Rick Rubin, he did The Avett Brothers last three albums. I’ve only ever produced my shit myself. Maybe five years ago I would have been more stubborn. But now, when he’d open his mouth about something, instead of just automatically being like “No, it’s got to be my way,” I think about it from someone else’s point of view and most of the time he’s right. We worked really well together.
How are The 78′s treating you?
The last time I saw you I said that was the best band I ever had. It’s even better now. The band right now, we all get along like brothers on stage and off and that’s never happened in the history of my band. Right now, every night I’m smiling, I’m having a good time. It’s been a while. I’m trying to live a little better. But when we went into the studio my anxiety was through the roof because it’s been a while and I only had a few songs prepared really. And it just jelled.
So you feel like things are going in the right direction. Can you see it in the crowds?
Oh yeah. We’re doubling, tripling, quadrupling every show we play. The internet stuff’s been going better. Everything’s been going better. I never go into a show and it’s disappointing. It’s the management and the booking, but really it’s all of it together. The fucking band is good. The old days, we’d be touring forever but it was a half-assed band. Like I’d have a fill-in drummer for eight shows. And the last year and a half to two years it’s been a fucking good band. I would go see this band.
You played Dale Watson’s new bar down in San Antonio recently. How was that?
Big T’s Roadhouse. It’s cool man, its like Little Ginny’s Longhorn Saloon, but out in the middle of nowhere. It’s even white and red, just like Little Ginny’s. About the same-sized joint. We played it on Sunday; it was Chicken Shit Bingo. It was cool, really cool.
I want to know about your guitar.
It was brand new in 2001 I believe. But it was black with white binding. I loved it, but I always wanted a tobacco burst Tele. That’s the look I always love is tobacco burst anything. So I stripped it down, repainted it, and the “WM” I painted it on there by taking some pin striping, masking it, and spraying it. Once the original frets wore out, instead of getting a fret job, I just bought a new neck. That’s the third neck I’ve had on it. It’s the U-shaped, big baseball bat neck, and it’s got new Grover tuners on it. I love it. I go to these vintage shops and pick up these 70′s tele’s and I’m like, “Oh this thing is so rad,” and then I play it and I say, “Mine plays better” because I made it exactly how I want it to play. I ended up using mine in the studio even though they had like six unbelievable tele’s there from the 60′s and 70′s.
The 78′s are Brett Robinson – Pedal Steel, Tony Dicello – Drums, Benny James Vermeylen – Guitar and Backing Vocal, and Alex Lyon – Bass.
To hear the warm, familiar voice of a legendary country music great again here so many years after they have unfortunately passed on in a new, unreleased and unheard song is a gift from the country music heavens hard to put a true measure on. But to hear two of those legendary voices come back to life, and together no less, is downright country music divinity.
Between 1981 and 1984, Johnny Cash recorded an album with the legendary Hall of Fame producer Billy Sherrill called Out Among The Stars that was subsequently shelved by Columbia Records and lost to the world until the masters were recently discovered during a search for archival Cash material by Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. The album in its entirety will be released on March 25th, but ahead of the release we’ve been bestowed a prelude track— a duet of Johnny Cash with Outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings, breathing new life into the Hank Snow-penned train tune “I’m Movin’ On.” A version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” was also released from the album in mid January.
Beyond the track itself, the archivists were gracious and wise enough to leave some of the studio banter hanging onto the beginning of the recording, really helping to re-evoke the the warmth that Johnny Cash could bring to a room, disarming the studio with laughter to make sure a relaxed take would make it on tape. The track itself is a cooking little tune, just as much in the period style of Waylon as it is Cash, with a half-time hitch in the middle of the song for character, and some great backing instrumentation.
Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins can be heard laying down a piano bed, and though Nashville A-Team studio guitaristÂ Jerry Kennedy likely makes a heavy appearance on the track, I could swear in the second guitar solo I hear the signature styling of Marty Stuart, who was there for the original sessions, and is one of the musicians along with Buddy Miller who helped “fortify” the tracks for this unique release.
This is no world-beater, but it was likely meant to be the up-tempo change in the album and performs this task admirably. Really, Waylon and Cash could both throw a pair of their dirty jockeys in the middle of the studio and we’d probably think it sounded like genius just from the virtue of hearing their voices again. From sharing an apartment together in the 60′s, to having heart surgery at the same time and in the same hospital in the 80′s, to bookending the legendary Highwaymen into the 90′s, there’s just something right about these two men in tandem.
Waylon & Cash, together again.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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