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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 of 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, “You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.” 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 if 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 cliché 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 Joe’s in Waco, TX drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaver’s 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, “Where do you want it?” while brandishing a small handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, “Why do you want to do this?” 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. “We were making jokes about what kind of song he’d write about this ’cause he writes songs about everything,” says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joe’s that’s been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Coker’s 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 78′s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Dale’s 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 “lost album” 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 Cash’s career.
Out Among The Stars features 12 tracks, including a duet with Waylon Jennings, and two duets with Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash. The recordings also feature Country Hall of Fame keys player Hargus “Pig” Robbins, and a young Marty Stuart. Legacy Recordings had Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, and Jerry Douglas “fortify” 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 60′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 wouldn’t drive to the nearest liquor store in Beaumont.
But that didn’t 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. “There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition,” George recalled in his autobiography. “I 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.”
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 George’s 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. “I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away,” Tammy recounted in 1979. “When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He’d 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 she’d come after me.’”
The George Jones lawnmower incidents later went on to be memorialized in many country videos, including Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” Vince Gill’s 1993 hit “One More Last Chance” that includes the line, “She might have took my car keys, but she forgot about my old John Deere,” and John Rich’s “Country 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:
•Tammy Wynette •Loretta Lynn •Buck Owens •Waylon Jennings •Willie Nelson •Johnny Cash •Dolly Parton •David Allan Coe •Jerry Lee Lewis •Hank Williams Jr. •Patty Loveless •Lynn Anderson •Emmylou Harris •Ricky Skaggs •Garth Brooks •Tracy Lawrence •Charlie Daniels •Marty Stuart •Merle Haggard •Ralph Stanley •Randy Travis •Vince Gill •Alan Jackson •Sammy Kershaw •Shelby Lynn •Mark Chesnutt •Travis Tritt •Barbara Mandrell •Brenda Lee •Shooter Jennings •The Staple Singers •Keith Richards •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
- “The greatest voice to ever sing country music.” — Garth Brooks
- “The second best singer in America” — Frank Sinatra
- “If we all could sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones,” — Waylon Jennings
- “Anyone who knows or cares anything about real country music will agree that George Jones is the voice of it.” — 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 “Achy Breaky Heart” 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 guitarist 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.
Okay, Red Sovine only pondered killing Waylon and Willie in hyperbole and sarcasm. In fact by all accounts this succulent little lost country classic was written and recorded as a tribute to the success of the two Outlaw country music greats. And as one of the very last recordings trucker song overlord Red Sovine ever made, and one that was released in a much more straight-laced time in country music when its genius may have been lost on most, it only seems fair to resurrect it now and shine a spotlight on it for our listening enjoyment.
The song is called “The Waylon & Willie Machine,” and its wise-ass take on the two Texan’s success speaks to just how big Waylon & Willie were back in the mid to late 70′s. The song was originally written and recorded by country and rockabilly artist Marvin Rainwater with co-writer Max D. Barnes (George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” and Waylon’s “Drinkin’ and Dreamin’” just to name a few). Marvin Rainwater recorded the song with Jesse Fletcher on the very small “Okie” imprint at some point in the late 70′s (listen below), but very few 7″ copies were made.
Then Red Sovine got a hold of it in 1979 and released it on a 45 himself through Gusto Records, with Colorado Cool Aid on the flip side. Sovine’s would become the definitive version … if there was one. The song never made it on an album (Sovine passed away on April 4th, 1980 of a heart attack), and it was never released properly as a single, probably because it would be misunderstood by DJ’s and listeners alike. But listening to it now some 35 years later, the entertainment value hasn’t waned, but grown better with age.
At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards Sunday night, country legends Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard performed a medley of songs together along with Blake Shelton, with the occasion being Kris Kristofferson receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award and having his first self-titled album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. But this grouping wasn’t accidental, or an augmented version of the supergroup The Highwaymen that Willie and Kris were once a part of with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
A long-planned, and even longer-rumored album and grouping of Willie, Merle, and Kris called “The Musketeers” has been in the works for years. Saving Country Music first reported on the potential supergroup in January of 2011 when the three men were assembled as part of Merle Haggard’s recognition by the Kennedy Center Honors. Haggard told Rolling Stone at the time:
We got to eat a little something together. We didn’t know what the hell this food was, but we thought it was funny. We (Merle and Willie) talked about doing that together, but with the presence of Kris, we talked about the three of us doing it. I’m sure if we’re healthy and live to do it, we’ll do it. We thought about the title: the Musketeers. You know, because there’s the three of us. We’ll come up with some little way of describing ourselves I guess and put it together into a show.
“The Musketeers” might just be a placeholder for the eventual name, but apparently the three Country Music Hall of Famers are still serious about the idea, and are working on music. When asked by Billboard before The Grammy Awards if a collaboration between the three men could be in the offing, Willie Nelson responded, “We’re working on one now.” When asked when fans could expect something, and if it could be this year, Willie responded, “As soon as we get it together. Could be.”
Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson have toured together in an acoustic show numerous times since 2009, and Willie Nelson worked with Merle Haggard in 2007 on the album Last of The Breed. Willie and Merle also collaborated on the Townes Van Zandt classic “Pancho & Lefty.”
Finally stimulating The Musketeers to go from talk to actual tracks might be the recent revelation from Kris Kristofferson that he’s beginning to experience memory issues.
The country song protesting the direction of country music has in many respects just as much tradition and lineage in country music now as many of the genre’s other defining elements. From Waylon Jennings’ #1 single “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” in 1975, to the song “Murder on Music Row” that was the CMA Song of the Year in 2001, to Dale Watson and Hank Williams III’s recent chest-pounding protest songs, as long as the business of country music has been trying to veer the music off of its true path, there’s been artists willing to take a bold stand and speak out against it.
In many ways the country protest song has become so prolific in its own right, sometimes they can trend toward cliche in a somewhat similar vein to the songs they are looking to criticize. But to see such sentiment coming from a 15-year-old songwriter and performer in an original composition speaks to both the depth and degree of country music’s current wayward trajectory, and the wisdom and talent of the songwriter and performer penning such a tune.
Williamson Branch is a bluegrass and country band from Nashville, and their 15-year-old fiddle and guitar player Melody Williamson recently wrote a song called “There’s No Country Here.” Despite her age, Music Row would be wise to remove themselves for their laundry list clatter and listen to what the future of country music has to say about where country music is headed.
5 out of 5 stars.
What made Johnny Cash the ultimate badass was his ability to bridge people together regardless of taste in music, cultural differences, or political ideology. Johnny Cash could tackle some of the most difficult issues facing a tumultuous American society as it saw the emergence of rock and roll and the counterculture because they man had such an air of respect about him. When he spoke, everyone quieted, and listened. Great music and musicians dominate genres. Legends transcend genres. It’s is quite the daunting challenge to find someone who doesn’t have something nice to say about Johnny Cash regardless of sex, race, creed, status, or cultural background.
1. Intercepting the News of the Death of Joseph Stalin
That’s right, the first American to hear about the death of the ruthless Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and report it to the United States government was none other than the Man in Black. Johnny Cash spent 4 years in the Air Force, rising to Staff Sargent, and working in Landsberg, West Germany for the Air Force Security Service. The name of Cash’s first band was “The Landsberg Barbarians,” an homage to the German town he called home.
While stationed in Landsburg, Cash was working as a Morse Code Intercept Operator, monitoring transmissions from the Soviet Army. Around March 5th, 1953, he was translating Morse signals when can came upon the important information. At the height of hostilities during the Cold War, this intelligence was considered crucial.
Cash was honorably discharged from the Air Force in July of 1954 to pursue his career in music.
2. Recording “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
It was the song that made Kris Kristofferson a household name, but it wasn’t Ray Stevens’ version of it in 1969 that stalled at #55 on the charts, or Kristofferson’s own version which didn’t chart at all that made it such an iconic part of the American songbook. It was Johnny Cash’s take on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that took it all the way to #1 in 1970, and eventually to being named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association.
It’s because only Johnny Cash had the credibility and undying loyalty of the country music community to sing what was a controversial song at the time, and have people listen through the controversy to the heart of the story that Kristoffersoon had so eloquently captured.
Johnny Cash wasn’t a country music Outlaw in the traditional sense, but he was an honorary Outlaw in every sense, and when he sang “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” he took Kristofferson from a barely-known songwriter to a national celebrity.
3. Concerts and Albums From Folsom and San Quentin Prisons
Probably the most obvious of Johnny Cash’s badass moments, but ones that cannot be understated in their significance both musically and culturally, Johnny Cash performed at The Folsom State Prison and the San Quentin Prison—two notorious lockups in California—in 1968 and 1969 respectively, with the live recordings taken from the concerts becoming significant and commercially successful live albums that are given credit for being some of the best ever in country music.
Johnny Cash played two shows at Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968, resulting in 15 live tracks for the At Folsom Prison Album. At San Quentin was recorded on February 24, 1969 and was more of a linear recording of the event, though the original LP took out some songs because of space restrictions. The two albums are given credit for resurrecting Cash’s career, while raising awareness about the issues facing individuals in incarceration, and bridging cultural differences between music fans during a tumultuous time in America. If people were not aware before, Johnny Cash’s prison albums announced to the world inside and outside of country music that he truly was a badass.
4. Having A Smoke With A.P. Carter
Depending on who to talk to, the father of country music is either the singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers, or the patriarch of the Carter Family, A.P. Cater. Seeing how Johnny Cash married into the Carter Family, he would probably say the answer is the latter.
Producer, songwriter, and cosmic music man “Cowboy” Jack Clement was famous for shooting home movies when hanging around his musical friends and cohorts, and he was fortunate enough to have captured the moment Johnny Cash decided to drive out to the grave site of A.P. Carter at the Mount Vernon Methodist Church Cemetery in Virginia to have a smoke with the man responsible for the first ever commercial country music group. The clip below comes from the movie Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies.
Johnny Cash’s efforts to help the less fortunate throughout his life have been well-documented, and on June 10th 1978 at the annual United Nations Citation Dinner in New York City, he was presented with the United Nations Humanitarian Award.
6. Hosting the Million Dollar Songwriter Circle
You’ve all heard about the “Million Dollar Quartet”—the recording session at legendary Sun Studios in Memphis on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cash’s home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world.
The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place. “That night in my house [was] the first time these songs were heard…” Johnny Cash explains. “Joni Mitchell sang ‘Both Sides Now,’ Graham Nash sang ‘Marrakesh Express,’ Shel Silverstein sang ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ Bob Dylan sang ‘Lay Lady Lay,’ and Kristofferson sang ‘Me & Bobby McGee.’ That was the first time any of those songs were heard.” (read more on the Million Dollar Songwriter Circle)
7. Sharing an Apartment with Waylon Jennings
Before Johnny Cash married June Carter, and before Waylon Jennings married Jessi Colter, and the two men were picking up the pieces from recent divorces, they shared a pad at the Fontaine Royal Apartments in Madison, Tennessee, just north of Nashville. At that time in the mid-60′s, Johnny Cash was a star, but Waylon was still a newcomer. By all accounts, the two men would barely see each other, and would be in and out at all manner of the day and night, leave on tour, come back, be out the next morning for a studio session, usually while taking trucker pills and sleeping very little.
Stories abound about some of the happenings at Fontaine Royal, with some considering it to be the equivalent of a country music “stabbin’ cabin.” One story says as the two men would walk by the swimming pool on their way in or out, throwing money into it for the neighborhood kids to dive in and retrieve. Oh, to be a fly on that wall….
8. Releasing Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian
Many artists and people talk and good talk about supporting the so often wronged American Indian, but Johnny Cash stepped up to the plate and did so in a big way when he released this concept album paying tribute to the stories and struggles of the American Indian. Johnny Cash had Cherokee blood in his family, and claims this was one of the inspirations for the album.
Aside from the music, this album is significant in so many other ways. Though Willie Nelson’s conceptualized albums Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger are often given credit for being the first conceptualized albums in country music, Bitter Tears came out in 1964; a decade before those Willie records. Furthermore the album was released ahead of the popularization of Native American issues that happened in the late 60′s as part of the counterculture movement. Way more than a trendy work looking to exploit a pet issue of guilt-riddled baby boomers, Bitter Tears was a groundbreaking approach to the album concept in country music that carried a sincere concern and reverence for the American Indian, illustrating Cash’s dedication as a humanitarian throughout his career.
9. Inviting Bob Dylan on the Johnny Cash Show
The Johnny Cash show was badass enough in its own right in how Johnny reached out to every corner of the American music world to create magical, legendary moments on a weekly basis from the Ryman Auditorium. The Johnny Cash Show Ran from ran from June of 1969 to March of 1971 on ABC, featuring a total of 58 episodes and not a bad one in the bunch.
But if one episode stood out, it was Bob Dylan’s appearance in 1969 around his recording of his Nashville Skyline record. It symbolized the confluence of two music worlds, and two titans of them and the results were magic. From the original Rolling Stone article covering the event:
The Dylan appearance was no secret in Nashville, fortunately. It goes without saying that Cash fans are as baffled by Dylan’s emergence here as Dylan freaks were startled at the news of this new axis. But they all lined up outside the Opry: businessmen and their wives, country boys, bald heads, acid heads, bee-hive bouffant blondes, drawling teenyboppers and other assorted traveling wonderers. There is no doubt that a good part of the audience was there just to see Cash and didn’t know what all the fuss was about. But the seats and aisles of the Opry were full, and Dylan did not lack a fine representation of people familiar with his work.
10. Recording “Hurt” From NIN’s Trent Reznor
There were many songs, especially from Johnny Cash’s American Recordings era that The Man In Black took from great to legendary, but none resonated so deeply with a generation like this one. “Hurt” off of the Nine Inch Nails’ album The Downward Spiral from 1994 was nominated for a Grammy in 1996, but wasn’t an especially well-known song outside of the industrial music mindset. It certainly wasn’t on the radar of country fans when Cash cut it in 2002, but it became arguably his last big hit, and the doorway for an entire new generation of fans to find love for Johnny Cash, helped along by an iconic video.
11. (Bonus) Flipping The Warden The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot at the Cash concert in 1969 at California’s San Quentin prison by photographer Jim Marshall. The pose was the result of Cash’s response to the request: “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” Marshall has since said it was “probably the most ripped off photograph in the history of the world.”
But the picture remained relatively obscure until 1998 when Johnny was working with legendary producer Rick Rubin on his American Recordings albums. The second American album Unchained won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album. But could you hear Johnny Cash’s music on the country radio? Not so much. Rubin called country radio a “trendy scene,” and decided to fire a shot right at Music Row. Rubin dug deep and pulled out $20,000 to take a full page ad out in Billboard Magazine. The ad featured the famous Cash bird flipping, and the caption: “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.” (read more on the middle finger photo)
Travis Tritt was seen as the no frills, Southern rock representative for the now legendary “Class of ’89″ contingent of breakout stars in country music; a class that also included Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Garth Brooks. While his sound leaned heavy on electric guitar and he coined himself as a “No Hat” act early on along with long-time friend Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt also remained in the good graces of many of the greats that in some respects got shoved aside by the Class of ’89, including Waylon Jennings.
Tritt’s undeniable authenticity and straight shooting approach once had Waylon saying about him, “Travis is about my favorite new singer. What a talent, and a writer. He hones his songs, cares about them, and he knows how to work that rock-and-roll hoofbeat so it turns into a stampede. For me, he’s a cross between Hank Williams and Ray Charles…”
In some respects, time has forgotten just how big, and just how true Travis Tritt was back in the 90′s, and that is the crux of a recent Peter Cooper-penned feature on Tritt for The Tennessean. Tritt is recording a “Travis Tritt & Friends Live Acoustic” DVD during the next couple of nights at the Franklin Theater in Nashville’s famous suburb, and the stripped-down approach is a chance for Tritt to showcase his skills as a songwriter and picker, not just a full-tilt country rocker; something that Tritt is better at than some may assume (see below), and something some of Tritt’s country music contemporaries would not be able to pull off.
Tritt told Peter Cooper that artists theses days are being “stifled” by the business of country music that thinks it knows what’s right for artists. But according to Tritt, that’s not always the case.
There’s a mentality in the country music world of Nashville that says, “You don’t know anything, and we know how to do this.” It’s “We know what’s best for you: You get to the microphone, sing what we tell you to sing, play what we tell you to play, and you’ll be fine.” 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. I’d say to any of the new people coming out, ‘Find the courage to step out and try it your way.’ Otherwise, what we get is a cookie-cutter mentality that isn’t good for artists who are having to portray themselves as something they aren’t, or that are capable of doing so much more but are being stifled.
Willie Nelson is in many ways a microcosm of the American experience. He grew up during The Depression, had a rough and tumble youth, battled through familial and financial problems for years, struck it rich, and reformed himself from his violent past to become one of the world’s most well-known and greatest pacifists and advocates for the poor and social justice. Lots of wisdom can be gleaned about life from simply studying the life of Willie Nelson . And ultimately, he is undoubtedly one hell of a badass.
1. Surviving a Plane Crash
As told by Willie Nelson’s friend, professional golfer Larry Trader:
“Willie was flying in to the landing strip near Happy Shahan’s Western town that they used for the Alamo movie set. Happy is watching the plane coming in, knowing Willie is on it. The plane hits a big chughole in the strip and flips over on its side and crashes. Happy likes news and publicity, you know, so first thing he does is pick up the phone and call the radio stations, the TV, the newspapers. Happy says, ‘Willie Nelson’s plane just crashed. Y’all better hurry.’
“He jumped in a Jeep and drove out to the crash to pick up the remains. And here comes Willie and his pilot, limping up the road. The media people were arriving by then. They started firing questions at Willie. How did he survive? Was he dying? Was he even hurt? Willie smiles and says, ‘Why, this was a perfect landing. I walked away from it, didn’t I?’”
2. Recording Red Headed Stranger for $4,000
That’s right. Arguably the greatest, most influential album in the history of country music was recorded on a shoestring budget at the renegade and recently-opened Autumn Sound Studios in the Dallas suburb of Garland in January 1975. Autumn Sound engineer Phil York was trying to promote the new studio, knew Willie through harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and offered Willie a free day of recording. With complete creative control over the album as part of his new contract with Columbia Records, Willie set out to record a stripped-down conceptualized record that was like nothing the overproducing bean counters on Music Row had ever heard. Willie’s version of “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” became Willie’s first #1, and the album remains many critic’s pick for the best country record ever. Eat that Music Row.
3. Gun Battle at the Birmingham Coliseum
After playing a concert in Birmingham, Alabama in the late 70′s, Willie and the band found themselves in the middle of a gun battle in a six-story parking garage as they were unloading gear from the stage. Though the story involves Willie getting involved in the fracas with his own weaponry, it also illustrates Willie’s unique disposition as a peacemaker.
“All of a sudden we hear ‘Kaboom! Kaboom!’” Willie’s long-time stage manager “Poodie” Locke recalls. “It’s the sound of a .357 magnum going off in the parking garage. The echoes sound like howitzer shells exploding. It’s kind of semi-dark, and this guy comes blowing through this parking deck…now here comes this bitch with a fucking pistol. ‘Kaboom!’ She’s chasing this motherfucker. It sounds like a fucking war.”
At the time, Willie Nelson and most of his band and road crew carried pistols as a matter of habit. The scene became chaotic as the shooting happened right as the crowd from the show was filing out into the parking garage.
“People are piling out of the show and they start scattering,” Poodie continues. “Here come the cops from every direction. They’re flying out of their cars, hitting the parking deck, spread-eagling the whole crowd–’On the deck, motherfuckers!’–because the cops don’t know who is shooting at who…All these cops are squatting down in the doorjambs, turning people over, frisking them, aiming guns at everybody, just waiting for the next shot to be fired.”
“And here comes Willie. He walks off the bus wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes, and he’s got two huge Colt .45 revolvers stuck in his waist. The barrels are so long they stick out the bottom of his cutoffs. Two shining motherfucking pistols in plain sight of a bunch of cops nervous as shit. Willie just walks over and says, ‘What’s the trouble?’ Well he’s got some kind of aura to him that just cools everything out. The cops put up their guns, the people climb off the concrete, and pretty soon Willie is signing autographs.”
Along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson founded the annual benefit concert in 1985 to help raise money for struggling farmers that has since become an American institution. Before a crowd of 80,000, 52 performers at the original Farm Aid raised $9 million for American farmers. Then Willie went to Capitol Hill with a group of struggling farmers to petition the government for aid. The end result was the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 that helped many American farmers avoid foreclosure.
5. Bailing Dennis Hopper Out Of Jail in Taos, NM
Dennis was a part-time resident of the small northern New Mexico town of Taos. Back in the mid 70′s it was a hangout for country music types and Hollywood misfits like Hopper. It was also the scene of one of the most crazy country music stories involving Willie, Hopper, and of all people, golf pro Larry Trader.
“In Taos I had gotten real drunk and proceeded to win a lot of acid in a poker game, so I swallowed the acid and saw weird dangerous shit going on, and I pulled my pistol out of my boot and shot up the plaza. I was ranting and raving in the jail, people were out to get me, man, and here came the sheriff saying Willie Nelson had come and paid my bill and was waiting outside. I was free to go with him.
“I freaked fucking out. Willie Nelson? Come on, man, who do you think you’re kidding? You’re gonna lure me out and yell jailbreak and blow my ass away! But I thought, hey, be cool, you are after all hallucinating all this. So I walked out of jail and got into Willie’s Mercedes with him and his wife Connie and his golf pro Larry Trader. We drove across the desert towards Las Vegas. Willie and Trader and I nearly drove Connie crazy with our laughing and shouting.”
6. Taking the Rap for Pot Bust in Texas
When Willie Nelson’s Honeysuckle Rose III was searched at the border patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas in November of 2010 and agents found 6 ounces of marijuana, anyone could have copped to the stash, or Willie could have pulled a “Do you know who I am ?!?” moment. But instead he offered his wrists to authorities, knowing that his arrest would prove the futility of the criminalization of marijuana that he’d been advocating against for many years.
Willie was booked into custody, a mug shot was taken, and he was later released on $2,500 bond. Eventually a plea deal was reached with prosecutors, and Willie paid a fine and spent 30 days on probation.
7. Dripping Springs Reunion and the 4th of July Picnics
Even though the events have many times been an annual financial bloodbath, Willie’s commitment to them has been steadfast, and they have become a Texas and American institution. It started with the Dripping Springs reunion in 1973, with the idea of putting on a “hillbilly Woodstock.” The Dripping Springs reunion featured Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Charlie Rich, Dottie West, Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, right beside Willie, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. Over the years the picnics have gone on to feature artists forgotten by Nashville and up-and-comers right beside big name talent. And because more times than not they have been losing propositions financially, it’s been Willie’s commitment that has kept them going.
8. Getting Lost in Baton Rouge
As told by Willie’s manager Mark Rothbaum
“Willie and I were at a hotel in Baton Rouge on the evening of a concert. We were on the twenty-third floor, and we could see the coliseum in a straight line from our windows. Looked like it was just right over there. So we decided we would run to the concert. Willie and I took off running through Baton Rouge after dark. We ran and kept on running through the neighborhoods, and we still weren’t arriving at the concert. After we had run ten miles, we decided we were totally lost. The gig was starting, and we had no idea where we were.
“Willie said, ‘I’ll just go up to that house and knock on the door and ask for help.’ I said, ‘You can’t knock on some stranger’s door.’
“He said, ‘I ain’t a stranger. I’m Willie Nelson.’”
9. “Shotgun Willie” & The Great Ridgetop Shootout
It was in the aftermath of an incident that would later be remembered as the “Great Ridgetop Shootout” that Willie Nelson got the nickname “Shotgun Willie.” Ridgetop was the house Willie lived in just outside of Nashville in the late 60′s. When it burned down in 1970, it stimulated Willie’s move back to Texas. In 1969, Willie and his first wife Martha separated, and his second wife Shirley moved into Ridgetop. Willie and Martha had three children, and right before Christmas in 1969, Willie’s youngest daughter Susie told Willie that his oldest daughter Lana was being physically assaulted by her husband Steve Warren.
“I ran for my truck and drove to the place where Steve and Lana lived and slapped Steve around,” Willie recalls. “He really pissed me off. I told him if he ever laid a hand on Lana again, I would come back and drown his ass. No sooner did I get back to Ridgetop than here came Steve in his car, shooting at the house with a .22 rifle. I was standing in the door of the barn and a bullet tore up the wood two feet from my head. I grabbed an M-1 rifle and shot at Steve’s car. Steve made one pass and took off.”
But this wasn’t where the incident ended. Willie drove back to Steve and Lana’s to confront Steve again, but he was gone and had kidnapped their young son Nelson Ray. Lana also told Willie that Steve was looking to “get rid of him (Willie) as his top priority.” So what did Willie do? He drove back to Ridgetop and waited for him.
“Thinking Steve would come to Ridgetop to pick me off about dusk, I hid in the truck so he couldn’t tell if I was home. We laid a trap for him. I had my M-1 and a shotgun. He drove by the house, and I ran out the garage door. Steve saw me and took off. That’s when I shot his car and shot out his tire. Steve called the cops on me. Instead of explaining the whole damn mess, the beatings and the semi-kidnapping and shooting and all, I told the officers he must have run over the bullet. The police didn’t want to get involved in hillbilly family fights. They wrote down what I told them on their report and took off.”
10. Building His Own Town
It’s called Luck, TX, and it was originally constructed as part of the set of the movie The Red Headed Stranger released in 1986 as a companion to Willie’s album of the same name. The town was originally called Willieville, and was constructed to be a replica of Driscoll, Montana. It sits across the street from Willie’s golf course about 30 miles outside of Austin. The remarkable thing about Luck is it’s not just a Hollywood facade, but a collection of real buildings that despite their purposefully rustic condition, are generally solid structures that could constitute a real old-time town, with a church, opera house, and various other buildings. And the town is still used upon occasion for movies, video shoots, and special events including an annual music showcase around South by Southwest.
And then of course, there was that time he smoked pot on top of The White House…but that’s another story.
Quotes taken from the autobiography Willie, by Willie Nelson with Bud Shrake.
This is one of the questions that has plagued the second half of my 2013, as devotees of the shadowy, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter pursue me, knowing what a sucker I am for narrative-based songwriting told through a thematic album. And that’s just what The White Buffalo, aka Jake Smith delivers in his latest record Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways released in September.
But how would you know about him unless you have your nose buried deep in the soundtrack credits for Sons of Anarchy where he’s appeared several times, or were aware of his similar inclusion on the recent soundtrack for The Lone Ranger movie? The White Buffalo is about as independent as the enigmatic beast that lends to his pseudonym. Lots of artists would love to boast how they defy genre, but few can pull off the feat, borrowing from scattered influences instead of truly forging their own path like The White Buffalo does. He’s certainly roots, he’s somewhat country, but he’s 100% his own animal standing out from the herd.
Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways is a concept album, and this is a fact Jake Smith is happy to share with his audience, along with a more in-depth explanation of the narrative, instead of letting you stumble into that truth like some artists find sport in doing. It follows the characters Jolene and Joe, their falling in love, the struggles of life that separate them in both body and spirit, and the sinister things this separation and life does to a man who struggles between sin and redemption.
Unlike some concept albums whose songs are linked through contiguous interludes or by referring back to certain global riffs or melodies, the songs of Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways are fairly autonomous, especially at the beginning. Near the end, you being to latch on to some sonic similarities, but especially through the first few songs of the album, this record is not what you would call seamless. The albums starts of very sweet with “Shall We Go On” and “The Getaway,” but then turns unabashedly belligerent in the song “When I’m Gone” that’s like a dirty-mouthed underground country anthem.
Jake Smith is not afraid to shift gears and catch you off guard at any time in the album, yet the story remains linear throughout. One benefit to the autonomy the songs contain despite the concept is there’s quite a few songs on this album that can reside excellent on their own, including virtually every full track on the second half of the album.
Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways is a creeper, especially if you don’t go into it knowing it is conceptualized. You recognize immediately there’s something cool here, but you may not be sure exactly what is going on, or what the overall appeal might be. Then after a few listens, despite the weight and artistry of the material, you begin to find the songs downright infectious. Nasty, viral grooves and hooks reveal themselves embedded in the content without jeopardizing the overall narrative that is the web holding the album together. The wit of the lyrics doesn’t wear off, it becomes enhanced as you to pick up on its subtleties, as the message of the story begins to reveal itself and you begin to identify and find empathy with the characters more and more.
By nature a concept album is harder to pull off because as an artist you must be beholden to the narrative instead of following your heart towards wherever inspiration grips you. But once the story finds its own path, the difficulty can be capturing it in the recorded format while the feelings are fresh, and doing justice to the story in the limiting confines of an audio record. Along on this journey with The White Buffalo are Jake Smith’s rhythm section Matt Lynot on drums, and Tommy Andrews on bass. The trio also calls on steel guitar, fiddle, cello, and keyboards in places to enhance the music that reaches towards Townes and Guy Clark in its lyrical depth, while referring to Tom Waits and Waylon Jennings sonically.
Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways is as ambitious as it is accomplishing, and should be considered in the same breath as some of the best albums of 2013.
Two guns up.
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Some of the new “Outlaws” in country music will have you believe that getting some mud on their tires or drinking a little too much is tantamount to years of paying dues and sewing your true Outlaw oats like the original Outlaws did. So here’s ten reasons why today’s “Outlaws” will never live up to the legacy of one of the biggest country music Outlaws, Waylon Waymore Watashin By God Hoss Tecumseh Jennings.
1. Walking Off The Tom Snyder Show
In September of 1998, Waylon was scheduled to appear on the Late Late Show hosted by Tom Snyder. Going into the taping, Waylon was already a little bit sideways with the situation because he thought he deserved a full hour slot, but instead the show’s producers had him share the show with Dr. Laura. When Dr. Laura’s segment began to eat into Waylon’s time even more, he walked off the set, leaving Tom Snyder hanging.
2. Walking Out On Chet Atkins – The $25,000 Piss.
It was early 1972, and Waylon Jennings wanted control of his music. He hired a New York lawyer named Neil Reshen—the same lawyer that helped Willie Nelson get out of his RCA contract—to renegotiate his with the Music Row giant.
“It was down to a $25,000 sum, and they we’re not going to give it to me. We were sitting there, not a word spoken, and the silence got unbearable. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore. ‘Chet,’ I said, reaching over to a bowl on his desk, ‘where’d you get these peanuts?’ Neil glared at me. ‘Shut up, Waylon.’
You could hear a clock tick in the room. It got even quieter. Minutes passed. I rose up, never said a word, walked out. I went to the bathroom to take a leak. When I came back, Neil greeted me in the hall. ‘You’re a fuckin’ genius,’ he said.
‘Walking out like that. That sewed it up. That was a $25,000 piss,’ said Neil. ‘They asked me where you went and I told them I didn’t know. ‘Waylon’s mad, I’m sure. He’s crazy. He’s liable to do anything.’ ‘Will he be back?’ they wanted to know, and I shrugged. ‘I guess he’s gone, so we may as well call this to a close.’ And that when they gave us the money.”
3. Walking Out of the 1970 CMA Awards
“It was Kris Kristofferson’s night; he was a shoo-in for several categories. I had been scheduled to perform ‘Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.’ They said they were strapped for time, and they wanted me to cut the song to one verse and chorus. I said, ‘Why don’t I just dance across the stage and grin? Maybe do one line. That’ll give you a lot of time.’ They told me to not get smart. Either I did it or I got out. They said, ‘We don’t need you.’ I decided that was true, and I left.”
4. The 1975 CMA Awards
“Now they needed me again, because I was up for Best Male Vocalist, Song of the Year (‘I’m A Ramblin’ Man’), Album of the Year, and Entertainer of the Year. As I walked in with Jessi [Colter], scratching at my tuxedo, her telling me I should have hit them, Neil [Reshen] came over to me. ‘You won Male Vocalist,’ he whispered. ‘Jessi didn’t win anything.’ So much for secrecy. If nobody’s supposed to know the awards before they opened the envelope, how did word get around? My heart went out to Jessi, and though my first instinct was to get the hell gone, I thought that maybe by staying I could raise some of the larger problems that faced country music, such as its closed-mindedness and suspicion of change.
“I tried to be nice in my acceptance speech, thanking everybody for their support, though I knew that block voting and mass trading between the big companies—we’ll give you two hundred votes for your artist if you give your four hundred votes to our writer—probably had more to do with it than anything else.”
Waylon’s 1975 Male Vocalist Certificate (note Waylon’s embellishment):
5. Singing with Big Bird on Sesame Street
Because real Outlaws have the balls to show their gentler side.
6. Playing “Ironhead Haynes” on Married With Children
7. Corrupting Clint Black
“Joe Galante from RCA once called me and said, ‘Clint Black really likes you. Can we go to lunch and you can tell him some old Waylon and Willie stories?’ We met up with his manager, Bill Ham, and I started recounting. I told him of all the phones I used to destroy, dialing a number, putting it to my ear, and walking off. He listened to tales of Hillbilly Central and Dripping Springs, and Joe would keep encouraging me, saying, ‘Tell this story, Waylon, tell that one.’”
“After I got through talking, Clint pushed back from the table. ‘I can let you know one thing I’ve gotta do,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to get rid of this goody-two-shoes reputation I’ve got.’ Both Bill and Joe looked at him in horror. ‘No, no! We just wanted you to hear the stories!’”
8. Starting Up A Motorcycle in a Hotel Room At Midnight
For Waylon’s birthday in 1979, former Buddy Holly Cricket Joe B. Mauldin tracked down a vintage 1958 Ariel Cyclone motorcycle that used to belong to Buddy Holly, and put it inside of Waylon’s hotel room as a surprise.
“I walked into my hotel room after the show and saw it sitting there. What else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldn’t mind.”
9. Meeting Billy Ray Cyrus
“You never do know where the stones you throw will land. 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?”
10. Writing and Recording “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
All quotes from Waylon – An Autobiography.
Wayne Mills was like that warrior that refuses to come off of the mountain. With defeat eminent and inevitable, he would rather raise his fists in the air and rage against the dying of the light then let it overtake him sitting down or sulking. He was like that old honky tonk that refuses to sell as strip malls, condo complexes, and highrises get built up all around it; the one lone holdout swearing off the money that selling out would impart on the principle that everything real, everything worth cherishing is disappearing, and with it, the ties to who we are as people, and the culture that we come from.
In the culture war, Wayne was that painted up, passionate warrior that rallies the troops with his sword held high, stern faced and stubborn as the waves of change sweep over and ultimately destroy all of what once was; victims of progress and the cult of priority.I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down In body, mind, and spirit, under the table, or under the ground The fading echos of a barroom band might be the only sound I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down
These are the words that form the chorus of the title track, and the theme of Wayne’s 2010 album with The Wayne Mills Band called The Last Honky Tonk. Both thematically and sonically, the album and Wayne are like a big stick in the mud and a finger in the eye of the forces severing country’s roots, drawing heavy from the Waylon Jennings-inspired half beat and electric sound, then floating towards the Willie Nelson waltz and acoustic rhythms, and by the end of the album, touching on and paying homage to most of the country music textures that are seen today by Music Row’s money-driven perspective as outmoded.
The second song on the album,”One Of These Days,” is about losing friends too early, reminiscing back on their lives, and using it as a reflection on his own. “My friends lost their lives, but I remember their dreams,” is what Wayne says leading into the the first chorus that talks about the promises we rarely keep to ourselves.
The infectious hook and groove of “Same Old Blues” makes it one of the most fun tracks on the album, while “It’s Just Not My Style” speaks to the personality of Wayne to just do things his way, and lead by example. “Old Willie Nelson Song” and “Friendly Companion” pay homage to Wayne’s musical heroes, but not in the pandering, name-dropping manner of many modern day country songs, but in the context of a heartfelt story. Then “The Truce” duet with Presley Tucker draws inspiration from the famously tumultuous relationship between Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
“Don’t Bring It Around” speaks to the sobriety many Outlaws attempt to embrace later in life, that is regularly hindered by the insistence of the culture and people that surround them, while the epic “Homeward Bound” is about coming come, and coming to peace, putting a period on an album that when listening to in the midst of the recent news of Wayne’s passing feels hauntingly foreboding and poignant.
True country music artists always seem to hold on to life much more precariously than the rest of us, and that vulnerability, and the perspective afforded by walking that line between the dead and the living is what gives them the insight to speak about such things the rest of us struggle to put into words. Wayne Mills was not the most well-known, nor the most prolific of artists. But he was one of the most pure and honest of the breed, unwavering in his country music principles, evidenced by The Last Honky Tonk, and his music that will live on well beyond his passing.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Tompall Glaser, who passed away in August, is considered one of the original country music Outlaws, and was one of the most influential men in Nashville in the mid 70′s both as an artist and studio owner. His renegade Nashville studio affectionately known as Hillbilly Central was a home to artists such as Waylon Jennings, Kinky Friedman, John Hartford, and many more, and was the heart of the country music Outlaw revolution of the mid 70′s. But little is known about this man that brought Music Row to its knees and helped usher in a new era of creative control and sonic innovation for country music.
That’s all about to change on December 1st when the 350-page biography The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw is released. Written by Tompall’s nephew Kevin L. Glaser, the book includes never-before known information about Tompall, provides historical information about Nashville, and gives a glimpse of what country music was like during the 1960s up to the 1990s. It also includes lengthy interviews with folks like “Cowboy” Jack Clement (who also recently passed away), President & CEO of BMI Del Bryant, Kinky Friedman, Jimmy Buffett (who recorded his 1973 album A White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean at Glaser Studios), Jimmy Bowen, Billy Swan, Marshall Chapman, and more.
“Research, interviews and spending time talking with Tompall began more than two and a half years ago, at the end of April, 2011.” explains Kevin Glaser. “I initially had simply wanted to write a tribute about a man that I knew mainly as my uncle. But when I began talking to Tompall, and to others who interacted with him during his music career, the book expanded considerably. I really had no idea how many things Tompall had accomplished in his life and was surprised at the impact that he had on so many people in country music during the 1960’s through the 1980s and beyond.”
“I am genuinely excited that the book is finally ready for release,” continues Glaser. “Publishing this book gives me a sense of great accomplishment, but more so, it gives Tompall the recognition he is due for his life’s work. This is an informative, interesting and unique story, and, even though I am Tompall’s nephew, it is told from a balanced perspective. My book is not the story of a perfect person, but it is the story of a remarkable person.”
The 6″ x 9″ hardcover book will have a cover price of $29.95, with plans for an e-book and audio book in 2014. More information about The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw.
So Eric Church, you think that genres are dead? Well then why don’t you turn in your Country Music Association Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music award for Best New Solo Vocalist from 2011, and your Academy of Country Music award for Vocal Event of the Year that you won with your country-rapping douche buddies Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan as you march your aviators-wearing ass straight out of the non-existent country genre that has made you millions upon millions of fucking dollars and see if the rock world will embrace your “Outsiders” Bon Jovi rehash and bestow awards, coast to coast radio play, and industry support to your ungrateful, arrogant ass.
You’re right Eric, genres are dead, and it’s because assholes like you have killed them by making murky, soulless, rootless pap to appeal to the wide masses while the roots of music wither, and there’s no better evidence of that than your latest rock opera being rammed down the throats of what are supposed to be country consumers, throwing the homogenization of the American culture into hyper drive so that you can hold on to your mainstream relevancy and make even more money stained with the blood of what country music once was.
If you want to play rock music because you think that country is too restrictive, then by all means Eric, do your worst. Play the music you want. But then stay the hell off of country radio, don’t perform at the country awards shows, and forfeit your trophies to the runners up if the country genre is meaningless to you or meaningless in general. Who do you think laid the groundwork for people like you to have untold success? Did you not notice the names as you were trouncing on the way to the top? You can’t use the legacy of country music to make it to the top of the hill, and then disregard it once you’re there.
Eric Church is a hypocrite ladies and gentlemen. From saying he’d never call himself an Outlaw while simultaneously selling Outlaw merch, to now saying genres are dead while shamelessly reaping the rewards of one. Remember the Eric Church song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill”? Remember the lines “I don’t think Waylon done it that way. And if he was here he’d say Hoss, neither did Hank,” and “You sing about Johnny Cash. The man in black would’ve whipped your ass”? What would Hank, Hoss, and Cash have to say to someone claiming the genre they worked their entire lives in and shed their blood for didn’t matter? I know what they’d say. “Eric who?”
And the sad part is yes, when talking about the very top of mainstream country males, Eric Church outpaces his peers as far as quality and innovation, his latest “The Outsiders” single rocketing up the charts notwithstanding. But that may say just as much about the lack of quality in his peers as it says about Eric. It’s his damn attitude, the arrogance bordering on downright hubris, and the uncaring if he completely tears down the country genre, or really anything on his way to the top as long as he gets his.
The death of genres in mainstream music means the death of contrast, and this is something that shouldn’t be regarded flippantly, something that shouldn’t be celebrated just because it secures the financial success of mono-genre artists like Eric Church for the future. It means that music will have that much less color and diversity moving forward and be much more about commercial success than making an artistic mark.
And that’s a sad commentary.
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