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- If You Missed It: Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver on Letterman
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- New Song from Cody Canada and the Departed "Easy"
- Flaco Jimenez to receive Lifetime Grammy Award
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- Nashville Scene Rips Into American Country Countdown Awards
- Ardent Studios Founder John Fry Dies at 69
- Windowing New Music May Not Goose Sales, Study Shows
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- Famous Nashville Backup Singer Millie Kirkham Dies at 91
- Proof How Much The Music Industry Has Changed In The Last Ten Years
- NY Times' Jon Caramanica's Top 10 Albums Includes Sturgill Simpson
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From the fertile Outlaw country ground that comprises the hills and hollers of Boone County, West Virginia comes a homespun, but inspired and deftly-written insight into the American experience called No Place Lower Than High. Composed and performed by the virtual unknown singer and songwriter Justin Payne, this no budget project cut in a 100-year-old coal camp house is rough-hewn, scratchy, and sometimes hard to listen to through the production shortcomings. But hiding under all of the coal dust is a soul-bearing, bare-chested, and unfettered account of one man’s dreams and demons more than worthy of listening in on.
When I use the term “Outlaw” to describe Justin Payne, I mean the Merriam-Webster version, the Waylon Jennings circa 1974 version, with the half time bass beat holding everything together and the Telecaster phase guitar turned high. This album is Outlaw in every sense of the classic terminology, but it’s not just tone, bravado, and style like the stereotypical Waylon or Paycheck interpretation of Outlaw. This album has the Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark legacy of the Outlaw era in it too with intense, weighty songwriting lurking within these tracks, and a troubadour’s heart hiding beneath Payne’s brambly exterior.
When it comes to the songwriting on No Place Lower Than High, Justin Payne measures high on all gradients. Vulnerable, honest, insightful, and personal, Payne aims right for the heart and sinks his lyrical dagger true. Justin doesn’t undertake in character generation on this album. This isn’t a work of folklore or fiction. Payne’s narratives are ripped right out of his own experiences in those Boone County hills, and the truth behind the words of these songs is what makes them so gripping.
What holds No Place Lower Than High back is simply the way it sounds in certain places. Though in the same regard, the style is one of the album’s strengths. Foggy, slightly muted, unmastered, and employing some very strange tones in places, especially in the drums that sound at times electronic (whether they are or not), this is the unfortunate assessment that will probably keep certain listeners at arm’s length. But generally, Justin has the arrangements and even the tones and styles spot on; it’s just the production level leaves a layer of film on the project that passive music fans might not be able to listen through. Conversely this haziness is also what makes the album sound classic and cool, and there’s a lot of accidental genius and endearing simplicity in the way this album was cut and glued together. A song like “The Fall” came out perfect, and would be criminal to tinker with.
Strip away all the music, and simply on paper this album has so many great compositions. “The Man I Should Be,” “The Fall,” “Life Is A Country Song,” “Papers,” “Sunday Song”—they just keep coming. The only song that seems unfortunate to have made the cut is “Your Kind.” Destined to be taken the wrong way by certain listeners, it falls into more of the stereotype of what one might expect from this album, instead of what one actually gets from the other nine songs. It’s just very divisive in its tone, where the rest of No Place Lower Than High barrels you over with the unexpected poetry and wisdom.
Justin Payne is no crooner, but similar to the production of the album, you root for him, and he surprises you with his vocal adroitness, and sense of timing and dynamics, making the most of his given attributes and authentic drawl.
It wouldn’t be fair to not dock No Place Lower Than High for the flaws of the project illuminated above, but you get the sense with this inaugural album that there is something very strong here, something extremely promising that just needs a little polishing, while at the same time, taking great care not to compromise what makes Justin Payne so cool and authentic, and greatly enjoying what he’s already done with this album.
No Place Lower Than High is a superb underground gem sifted out of a mess of coal rubble, in an era when such discoveries seem much too far between.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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In early August it was revealed that Guernsey’s Auctions out of New York City was preparing to auction off 2,000 items from the Waylon Jennings estate in Chandler, Arizona, with the proceeds going to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Now even more details of the auction items have been revealed as the auction house has made a detailed auction guide available for pre-order.
The items will be made available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Included in the auction is a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams. There’s also an authentic set of Willie Nelson’s famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylon’s newly-found sobriety. There’s also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. There’s also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979 (read more).
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JD’s in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylon’s Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
For more information on the auction, visit www.guernseys.com.
Braids Willie Nelson gave to Waylon after he found sobriety.
“Storms Never Last” Bronze Bust
Waylon’s Stage Chair
Waylon’s Personal Rolex Submariner Watch
Porsche Design Sunglasses & Case
Porsche Design Sunglasses
Partner Desk Given to Waylon by Johnny Cash in 1985
Original contract forming the supergroup The Highwaymen.
Photo Display from the Music Row Museum
Muhammad Ali’s Training Gloves
Muhammad Ali’s Ring Robe Presented to Waylon Jennings by Ali in 1978
Letter from John Lennon To Waylon
Original Black Crayon Drawing of Johnny Cash by William Nelson
Hat Worn by Hank Williams Jr. During a Live Performance
Nomination Plaque for “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”
Fender Custom Shop Waylon Jennings Telecaster
Waylon’s Favorite Pair of Lucchese Boots
Engraved ST Dupont Black Chinese Lacquer and Gold Lighter c. 1970s
Hank Williams’ Custom-made Nudie Cowboy Boots
Costume Worn by Jennings in Sesame Street’s Follow That Bird
“The Buddy Holly Days”
Baume Mercier Watch
Nashville Rebel Poster with Autograph
Autographed Nashville Rebel Poster WITH ORIGINAL SHARKEY’S POSTER
1943 Martin Guitar 00021
The Highwayman Goes Gold
Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Every day tens of thousands of people put on the police uniform and put their lives on the line to protect and serve the citizens of the United States, and do it with a servant’s heart and a sincere desire to protect their local communities. But others step over bounds, grow power hungry in their positions, and some communities have dealt with corruption and brutality in policing for decades to where over the years it has become an eternal theme in American music, and in country music specifically.
Many country music songs deal with characters being incarcerated, being sent on the lamb, or being killed for things they have done that are wrong. However the following songs are ones that question if anything was done wrong in the first place, or decry how the system doesn’t allow previous wrongdoers to truly rehabilitate.
Here are 10 country songs criticizing the police state.
Johnny Cash – San Quentin
Many of Johnny Cash’s songs speak out about the inequality and ineffectiveness of America’s jails and the police state in general, and he punctuated this sentiment throughout his career with his legendary prison concerts. But no Johnny Cash song spells it out more clearly than “San Quentin”.
“And I leave here a wiser, weaker man. Mr. Congressman, you can’t understand.”
Kris Kristofferson – “The Law Is For Protection of the People”
From Kris Kristofferson’s first, self-titled album from 1970 which also included iconic Kristofferson-written tunes like “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Me & Bobby McGee,” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “The Law Is For Protection of the People” is arguably Kristofferson’s most powerful counter-cultural, anti-authoritarian statement of his career. Another song from the album, “Best Of All Possible Worlds” also carries a strong message about the police, but one where Kristofferson admits to his own drunken culpability.
“So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line, and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross.”
J.J. Cale – “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma”
Native Oklahoman J.J. Cale’s calling out of middle America’s aggressive police state has also been covered famously by Cody Canada & The Departed, and by numerous bluegrass bands including the Yonder Mountain String Band and the Hutchinson Brothers. It is from J.J.’s 1973 album Really.
“They got fines, they got plenty. They’ll hold you up for days on end. Threaten your life, take your money. Make you think you’re there to stay.”
Waylon Jennings -”Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”
The song is about Waylon’s cocaine arrest in 1977 for conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. A courier tipped off Federal agents that a package sent to Waylon from his lawyer/manager Neil Reshen contained 27 grams of cocaine. As authorities waited to obtain a search warrant, Waylon flushed the drugs down the toilet, and the charges were later dropped. Waylon blamed the whole episode on the marketing of his music as “Outlaw.” The song includes one of the best lines of any country song decrying the police state.
“I’m for law and order, the way that it should be. This song’s about the night they spent protecting you from me.”
Waylon Jennings - “Good Ol’ Boys” (Dukes of Hazzard Theme)
“Just some good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm…”
Waylon says in his biography, “They thought that was good but said all it needed was something about two modern-day Robin Hoods, fighting the system. So I wrote, ‘Fighting the system, like two modern-day Robin Hoods,’ and they didn’t even know they wrote the damn line. It was my first million-selling single.”
Merle Haggard – “Branded Man”
Speaking out about the difficulty felons find in the world after they’re released from jail, this classic country tune was the title track off of Merle’s fourth album released in 1968. Though there is no shortage of prison songs in country music complaining about how tough it is in the clink or once you get out, “Branded Man” speaks specifically about the inability of the police state to rehabilitate and re-indoctrinate ex convicts back into society.
“I paid the debt I owed ‘em, but they’re still not satisfied. Now I’m a branded man out in the cold.”
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Johnny Law
One of Wayne Hancock’s signature tunes about being pulled over for doing nothing wrong, “Johnny Law” is something most any American can relate to.
“You ain’t nothin’ but a bully with a star on your chest.”
The Bottle Rockets – “Radar Gun”
The cowpunk/alt-country entry into the list, “Radar Gun” was The Bottle Rockets biggest hit, reaching #27 on Billboard’s rock charts. It was released on their album The Brooklyn Side in 1994, later re-issued by Atlantic Records in 1995.
“Schedule 19 on a special election
Got our money problems right in hand
Droppin them limits like a hot potato
50 down to 30, oh man, oh man.”
Johnny Cash & Bruce Springsteen – “Highway Patrolman”
Though “Highway Patrolman” is seen by many as being against the police state, its message is much more subtle than most. Written and performed originally by Bruce Springsteen on his 1982 album Nebraska, it tells the tale of a Highway Patrolman who regularly looks the other way when his brother does wrong in the local community the officer is charged to protect. Johnny Cash covered the song on his album from the following year, Johnny 99—titled from another Bruce Springsteen song off of Nebraska.
“Well if it was any other man, I’d put him straight away
But when it’s your brother sometimes you look the other way.”
James Hand – “Old Man Henry”
When the 97-year-old Henry refuses to relinquish his land for a highway being built through town, he gets shot down by police who think he’s reaching for his rifle when he goes to pick up his cane. “Old Man Henry” off of Jame Hand’s 2012 album Mighty Lonesome Man is based partially off of true events.“40 rifles raised, from 40 men half crazed. As the bullets struck all around him, his house it caught ablaze. 40 rifles then, raised and fired again. As the fatal bullets hit him, Henry fell across Mary’s grave. A man of 97 years, lay dead upon the ground. As his soul winged up to heaven, a gentle rain came down. Henry laid across his Mary, their little home a pile of ash. Nothing left but the memories, they got their damned highway at last.”
What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth.
2014 has been a retrenching of sorts for many of country music’s legacy artists. Dolly Parton and Billy Joe Shaver have released albums after multi-year hiatuses from the studio, and to high praise and successful chart performances. The release of Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among The Stars treated classic country fans to an entire album’s worth of unheard material and collaborations with stars who’ve passed on, including Waylon Jennings and June Carter.
The song “It Ain’t You” off of Ray Benson’s album A Little Piece continues this trend of offering both something unheard, but something wrought during the living era of a legendary artist, and paid forward with reverence and care by those still around who are inspired by their legacy.
Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines. Benson was blown away that nobody had ever recorded the “undiscovered gem,” and he called up Willie Nelson who agreed to do the song with Ray. Willie recorded his part in his Western ghost town of Luck, TX. With Ray being 64, and Willie being 81, but both performers being very much in charge of their faculties and charging forward with their music careers, the pairing was perfect to embody the theme of “It Ain’t You” about growing old but staying young.
“It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. It has the similar self-reflective and age-recognizing tone of other Waylon-performed songs like “Memories of You And I”—pondering one’s own mortality and how age sees the sifting of abilities through your fingers. At the same time there’s a defiant strength woven through the lines; a reassurance that even though wrinkles may appear on the surface, the soul of a man continues to become refined over time.
The music, and both Ray Benson’s and Willie’s performances are chilling enough, but the video for “It Ain’t You” takes it a step further, fully understanding what’s at the heart of the song, and pulling out all the stops to not only do the song justice, but enhance the experience through the visual medium. The wisdom of knowing what the simple sight of Willie’s battle-worn hands can stir in the beholder, while crafting a way to capture the spirit of the long-time friendship between Ray and Willie so purely is worth watching even if the song itself doesn’t strike a particular chord with the listener.
Even without the legacies of Ray Benson, Asleep At The Wheel, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Gary Nicholson behind it, “It Ain’t You” would still be a song for the ages. Like the song’s writers, caretakers, and performers, it is destined to grow in stature over time.
Two guns up!
As one of the primary members of country music’s “Class of ’89″ that’s regularly given credit for veering country music into a too commercial direction, Alan Jackson seems to never be given enough credit for being one of the genre’s staunch traditionalists that has stood up for the roots and the legends of country music arguably more than any other mainstream star, and just as much (if not more) than The Outlaws of the 70′s did. When you sit back and reflect on his now legendary career that has seen the sale of over 80 million records and seen Alan amass dozens of industry awards, there is no question Alan Jackson deserves the distinction of being an ultimate country music badass.
More in this series:
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Wanda Jackson Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
- 10 Badass Kris Kristofferson Moments
1. Starting His Career in the TNN Mailroom
Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings got their start in music as DJ’s. Kris Kristofferson started out as a janitor in the Columbia studios. For those with music in their blood, they will do whatever it takes to get their foot in the door of the music business. For Alan Jackson, it was getting a job in the mailroom of The Nashville Network’s offices.
Jackson was born in Newnan, Georgia, and grew up in a house built out of his grandfather’s old tool shed. Jackson’s mom still lives in the house to this day. Jackson had been married to his high school sweetheart Denise for 6 years before deciding to move to Nashville to pursue music full time. Once they hit Music City, Jackson needed to do something to support the household, and TNN was hiring. He later met Glen Campbell and the rest is history.
2. Wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt on the 1994 ACM Awards
Today this would be no big deal. In fact it would probably be considered an upgrade from some of the ridiculous regalia many modern-day country stars get duded up in on award shows. But in 1994, country music’s prime time presentations were still very much black tie affairs. And here comes Alan Jackson walking out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It would pale in comparison to what would happen next on the show (see below), but Alan bucking the black tie dress code was scandalous on its own, and was probably meant as its own protest against the ACM’s stuffy atmosphere and a presentation that showed little reverence to the roots of the music.
Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, “Here you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?”
Jackson’s response was, “Well, I love Hank, and a fan…I get a lot of gifts on the road playing, and a fan gave me this shirt, and I just saw it in the closet before I came out here this weekend and I grabbed it and said, ‘I’m gonna wear it for my song,’ you know, ‘Gone Country.’ Hank’s country.”
3. Protesting The Backing Track on the 1994 ACM Awards
The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jackson’s oyster. Held at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on May 3rd, Alan walked away that night with the Top Male Vocalist award, and co-hosted the event with Reba McEntire. But when it came to performing what would be his upcoming #1 single and one of the signature songs of the era “Gone Country”, Alan Jackson couldn’t sit right with the charade most country award shows pull on their audience.
Before the show, producers told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded rhythm section track, which Jackson clearly felt was tantamount to lying to both his fans and the audience. So instead of playing along with the charade, Jackson tipped off the audience to the subterfuge by telling his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play without sticks. So as the performance transpires and everything sounds perfect, there is Alan Jackson’s drummer, swinging his arms like he’s playing the drums, but with no sticks in his hand.
Trust the ACM’s never asked Alan Jackson to play to a backing track again. And this wouldn’t be the last time Alan Jackson would pull a fast one on award show producers….
4. The “Pop A Top / Choices” George Jones CMA Awards Protest
Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices”. George, feeling that he wasn’t a “baby act” as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top”, cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices”.
‘‘We were all so nervous,” Alan Jackson later recalled. “The guitarist had this solo in the middle of ”Pop a Top’, and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start ‘Choices’. ”
As you can see in the video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jones’ comeback hit.
5. Releasing Under The Influences Tribute Album
During the height of Alan Jackson’s commercial success, he decided to do something rarely seen in modern day country from a superstar: he released an album made entirely of classic country covers. Including two songs from Johnny Paycheck, a cover of Merle Haggard’s “My Own Kind Of Hat”, and Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Blues Man”, Jackson’s label heads must have thought he was crazy. The album was Jackson’s way of pushing back against the pop-ification of country that was becoming a hot topic in the genre at the time.
What was the result?
It was a big success. Though it can be argued that an album of more original music might have done better, Under The Influences went Platinum, and included two hit singles. Nat Stuckey’s “Pop A Top” ended up at #6 on Billboards Country Songs chart, and Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” first made famous by Don Williams went all the way to #1. Alan Jackson proved that the classic country sound was still relevant, and commercially viable if given a chance.
6. Recording and Writing “3 Minute Positive Not Too Country Up Tempo Love Song”
Not since Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs & Waltzes”, and arguably no other song since has protested pop country’s propensity for commercialization and shallowness as well as this loquaciously-titled song written by Alan Jackson himself for his 2000 release When Somebody Loves You.
7. Recording “Murder On Music Row” with George Strait
Arguably one of the most important country music protest songs in the history of the genre, “Murder On Music Row” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell became a big success when Alan Jackson joined up with George Strait to release the song in 2000. The duo first performed the song in 1999 at the CMA Awards, and the next year the performance won the CMA for “Vocal Event of the Year.” Then the following year when it was released on George Strait’s Latest Greatest Straitest Hits album, it was awarded the CMA for “Song of the Year.” That’s right, a song talking about how country music had been murdered on Music Row walked away with the genre’s highest distinction for a song.
Even though the song was never released as a single, unsolicited airplay still saw the song chart on Billboard at #38. At George Strait’s final concert in June of 2014, the duo performed the song again to the largest crowd to ever see an indoor live music event
8. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”
In stark contrast to the inflammatory nature of Toby Keith’s post-911 über hit “Courtesy Of The Red, White, & Blue”, Alan Jackson did his best to humanize and come to peace with the tragedy of 9-11 through song, and it resulted in both his most critical and commercial success of his career. Written by Jackson himself, when he first played it for label executives, there was complete silence in the room for a full minute after it stopped. Jackson was scheduled to perform his current #1 song “Where I Come From” at the 2001 CMA awards in November, but mere days before the presentation, he decided to play “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” instead. The four CMA heads were not happy about this decision until Jackson’s tour manager Nancy Russell played the song for them. They were all crying by the time the song ended.
After Jackson played the song on the CMA Awards, demand for it skyrocketed. The song was so new, his label hadn’t officially released it as a single yet, but stations already with a copy started playing it, and the song shot to #25 on the Billboard Country Songs chart almost immediately. By the next week it was at #12, and by the end of the year, it was #1 where it stayed for five weeks. It also charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #28.
Jackson’s label couldn’t make the song a commercial single fast enough to meet demand, so they instead decided to move up the release date of his album Drive from May of 2002 to January 15th. When the album was released, it went to #1 on both Billboard’s country and all-genre charts, and stayed there for four weeks off the strength of the song. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” eventually won both the “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year” from both the CMA and ACM Awards, as well as the Grammy for “Best Country Song.” It also helped propel Alan Jackson to be awarded both “Male Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” by the CMA Awards in both 2002 and 2003.
Jackson said about the song, “I think it was Hank Williams who said, ‘God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.’ That’s the way I felt with this song.”
9. Being Nominated For The Most CMA’s Ever In One Year
Bolstered by his song “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, Alan Jackson received a total of ten CMA nominations in 2002—the most in CMA history. Jackson won five of them.
- 2002 Album of the Year – Drive (Won)
- 2002 Male Vocalist of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Entertainer of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Vocal Event of the Year – “Designated Drinker” w/ George Strait (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
10. Keeping Virtually The Same Band & Producer Throughout His Entire Career
Every single one of Alan Jackson’s 15 major label album releases has been produced by Keith Stegall. Even when Jackson switched labels from Arista, Stegall stayed on board.
Jackson has also kept virtually the same band the entire time, aside from using a few bluegrass ringers for The Bluegrass Album. The loyalty Alan Jackson shows in his people, and his people’s loyalty in him, is both a sign of integrity and success.
- Monty Allen – acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
- Scott Coney – acoustic guitar, tic tac bass, banjo
- Robbie Flint – steel guitar
- Danny Groah – lead guitar
- Ryan Joseph – fiddle, harmony vocals
- Bruce Rutherford – drums
- Joey Schmidt – keyboards
- Roger Wills – bass guitar
More in this series:
Since the Johnny Cash Museum opened in downtown Nashville in May 2013, it has become one of Music City’s must-see spots and an international destination point for country music fans and Johnny Cash fans alike. Barely a year has passed since its initial opening and the museum is already tackling its first new addition. On August 15th, the museum will unveil its “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit celebrating the legendary Memphis studio that gave rise to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course, The Man in Black himself.
“Johnny Cash began his musical career at Sun Records,” says Johnny Cash Museum Founder Bill Miller. “Sun was the launch pad for several young men whose music would forever impact the world. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny came from similar backgrounds and humble beginnings. Once they walked through the door at the Memphis Recording Service, their lives would never be the same. We are proud to showcase Johnny’s labelmates from this historic period in rock and roll history.”
The Legends of Sun Records exhibit will showcase many artifacts and much information about the original class of Sun Records stars, but one man, and one particular piece of memorabilia might be worth paying a little bit of extra attention to.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland is not a name that is as familiar to music fans as the other big Sun Recordings stars, but his significance to early country and rock & roll cannot be overstated.
W.S. Holland was Johnny Cash’s drummer for 40 years, and is considered by many as the “Father of the Drums.” When he joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1960, the famous “Tennessee Two” officially became the “Tennessee Three,” but it was a fluke the drummer joined the band at all, leading to his now inseparable nickname.
W.S. Holland never intended to be a drummer. He was raised in Bemis, TN and worked for an air conditioning company after high school. He was a big music fan, and would go out after work to see Carl Perkins play with his two brothers at a local bar. Holland used to beat his hands on the side of the upright bass to the rhythm of music, and on a whim the Perkins clan invited Holland on a trip to Sun Records, and told him to borrow a drum set to play. One thing led to another, and W.S. Holland became one of Sun Records’ go-to session drummers.
W.S. Holland was the drummer for the famous “Million Dollar Quartet” session that matched up Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis (he got paid $11.50 for the gig—union scale at the time). He played on many other famous Sun Records recordings, including Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “Ring of Fire”, not as a member of Johnny’s band, but as a session player. Holland also played on many other famous Sun recordings, including “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Later W.S. Holland would take the same drum set used in many of those famous Sun Studios sessions, and they would become the first full drum set ever used on The Grand Ole Opry. Though Bob Wills back in 1945 brought his Texas Playboys to the Ryman, including their full-time drummer, The Opry forbade Bob from playing the drum set on stage. An argument ensued, and eventually The Opry caved and allowed the drummer to play a partial set behind a curtain. It’s said that Bob at one point said, “Move those things out on stage!” and the drums made a quick and controversial appearance, barring Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from the Opry for life. But the set owned by W.S. “Fluke” Holland, and the set that is on display as part of the Johnny Cash Museum’s “Legends of Sun Records” is the first full drum set, and the first officially approved set to ever grace The Grand Ole Opry’s hallowed stage.
The biggest “fluke” occurred for W.S. “Fluke” Holland when he was hired by Johnny Cash to play a quick two week run of shows in New York and Atlantic City. That two weeks lasted 40 years in Johnny Cash’s band, and the rest is history. Later when Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, W.S. “Fluke” was the supergroup’s full-time drummer. “Fluke” also played on Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, played on the Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin albums, and was also the session player for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record.
The quaint, four-piece drum set on display at the Johnny Cash Museum could be considered the most important drum set in this history of country music—and rock and roll music for that matter, or American music in general. Along with all the other important artifacts that make up the “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit, it makes this new museum addition a worthy visit for music fans of all stripes.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland still plays drums and tours today in his W.S. Holland Band.
Photos by Jarrett Gaza
Guernsey’s Auctions out of New York City is getting ready to liquidate a massive 2,000-piece collection of items owned by Waylon Jennings from his Arizona estate, with the proceeds from the auction going to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.
What can collectors expect from this rare chance to own a piece of authentic Waylon Jennings memorabilia? Well for starters, there’s a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams that are adorned appropriately with a Phoenix on the front, and an ‘H’ in the middle for “Hank”. There’s also an authentic set of Willie Nelson’s famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylon’s newly-found sobriety. There’s also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. There’s also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Waylon Jennings played bass for Buddy Holly right before he died in the plane crash in 1959 that was later memorialized in the Don McLean song “American Pie”. Waylon was supposed to be on that flight, but gave his seat up to The Big Bopper. 1 1/2 years before in May of 1958, Buddy Holly and his original Crickets flew in to Dallas’s Love Field airport on a connecting flight back to Lubbock after a big tour. But instead of flying, the three decided to purchase motorcycles and drive back.
“Then they went over to Miller’s Motorcycles, which specialized in English bikes,” Waylon recalled in his biography with Lenny Kaye. “There, Joe B, and J.I. (Allison) bought a Triumph each, a TR6 and Thunderbird, respectively, while Buddy picked out a maroon and black Ariel Cyclone, with a high compression 650cc Huntsmaster engine. They paid cash, bought matching Levi jackets and peaked caps with wings on them, and rode home through a thunderstorm.”
Then in 1979 for Waylon’s 42nd birthday, the two remaining Crickets Joe B. and J.I. tracked down the 1959 Ariel Cyclone, bought it back, and had it hand delivered to north Texas where Waylon found it sitting there in the middle of his hotel room after walking off stage that night.
“What else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldn’t mind.”
The motorcycle was eventually put on display at Waylon’s home in Arizona.
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JD’s in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylon’s Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
An auction catalog with detailed descriptions and pictures of each item is expected to be made available to the public for $32 from Guernesy’s later in August, and the items in the auction will be available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Along with making the Phoenix Children’s Hospital lots of money, let’s hope some of the more important items end up where they can enjoyed not just by the high bidder, but by all of Waylon’s fans.
As the thoughts and prayers of millions of fans keep vigil over Randy Travis in hopes the ailing singer someday will be able to share his gift for song with the world once more, life moves on and the release of Randy’s second installment of Influence: The Man I Am series approaches on August 12th. As a reflection back upon the artists and songs that created the foundation of Randy’s storied career, it only seems fitting that Waylon Jennings would work his way onto Randy’s The Man I Am track list. And not wanting to be too obvious by picking one of Waylon’s super hits from the Outlaw era, Randy selects “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”; a hard-driving, thumping number that when released in 1968 was uncharacteristic for Waylon who at the time was known as the purveyor Nashville’s country folk fare. Of course as we know now, the style and attitude the song was recorded with would later become Waylon’s signature for the rest of his career.
Written by Nashville session guitarist Jimmy Bryant and produced by Chet Atkins, the original “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” was perhaps Music Row’s answer to the more rough-hewn sound emanating from Capitol Records and the Bakersfield Sound of the time. The song went to #2 on the Billboard Country Singles chart and has since become a standard of the genre. Linda Ronstadt released a role-reversed version of the song in 1969, and The Kentucky Headhunters also recorded a famous version of the song in 1991 for their Electric Barnyard album.
The Randy Travis version of “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” is a pretty straightforward, no frills take on the song. “Only Daddy” is one of those compositions whose original will likely never be outdone by the predecessors. But Randy gives the song a new spirit and audience, and simply hearing Randy’s voice once again, especially reprising this classic piece of country music history, reminds us of how important Randy was to revitalizing country music’s classic tones in the mainstream commercial space in the mid and late 80′s and beyond.
Randy’s voice might be silent for the moment and Waylon may have long since passed, but this multi-generational country music collaboration reminds us that all the country music greats will be around forever through their timeless music.
You can also hear Randy Travis cover Marty Robbins in “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me“.
The health status of Randy Travis still remains very much in question, but that is not stopping the Randy Travis camp and Warner Bros. from releasing the second installment of his Influence: The Man I Am series on August 12th. The first album in the series was released on September 30th, 2013—a few months after Randy suffered a serious heart condition and subsequent stroke. Travis had to undergo brain surgery, and has been taking part in significant rehabilitation and physical therapy ever since the health episode.
Randy’s Influence series of releases looks to chronicle the classic country songs that went into the sound that may Randy Travis one of the most popular and influential country music artists of the late 80′s and into the 90′s and beyond. The new collection includes covers of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Hank Williams’ “Mind Your Own Business”, and Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”. It also includes the Randy Travis tribute to George Jones “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” written by Keith Gattis. Randy’s performance of the song at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest was one of his last public performances before his health issues (see below). Travis recorded both volumes in the Influence: The Man I Am series before last year’s health scare.
The extent of Randy’s paralysis after his stroke and surgery, and if he will ever sing again have been a topic of great speculation in the tabloid press, with multiple unnamed and named sources leaking conflicting information about Randy’s health status, while pictures of Randy appearing in public continue to surface. Last week yet another story citing an unnamed source surfaced in Closer Magazine, saying, “He hasn’t plateaued in his recovery, which is always a big fear. He really faces a long, tough battle.” The story also cites songwriter and Randy Travis friend Bonnie Paul who says, “He’s taking great strides and getting better. He’s a cowboy! If he gets back his strength, then anything is possible.”
Meanwhile any true health information about Randy’s status remains unclear, and his camp has yet to release any official statements about his prognosis or rate of recovery.
This Influence: The Man I Am series gives Randy Travis fans something new to listen to while Randy continues his hard-fought recovery to better health.
Just sit back and appreciate where we’re at for a second ladies and gentlemen. Here it is the dead of summer 2014, and the song that has everyone talking in country music is not some frivolous, carefree party anthem. It’s not some beach-bumming or beer on the tailgate half-baked haven for country cliché. It’s the song from two young girls named Maddie & Tae that directly calls out the pervasive checklist trend of male-dominated country music, and does so in a very direct, earnest manner.
No, that’s not not the smell of suntan lotion and margarita quaffing through the air, it’s the burning dolor of protest and dissent. “Girl In A Country Song“— this is the song that has everyone buzzing. This is the song that virtually every DJ and every country music website and periodical is buzzing about. This song, these girls, and the scenario it thrusts upon country music is what people find fascinating, and has captured the country music zeitgeist at this moment in time more than any other topic or song, and during a season already chock full of blockbuster singles like Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”, and compelling narratives like the return of Garth Brooks.
Displeasure reigns, and all those people who wonder why such effort is put forth to complain about country music songs that could just simply be ignored are now seeing the fruits of spirited discourse and articulate criticism. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from perfect. It may even be a stretch to call it good. But like all artistic expressions that rise above the sum of their parts, it captures a sentiment that is exceedingly relevant, and melds with the imagination of possibilities of what its success could mean.
On Monday (7-21), Maddie & Tae made an appearance on NPR of all places, and explained the inspiration behind “Girl In A Country Song”.
“Looking good for the boys is not all we have to offer for them. We’re bringing a voice for the girls in country music, and that’s why we came at this topic with a different perspective … It’s just a trend that kind of became irresponsible in its view of women, so we wanted to come about it from our perspective … Because as women, we don’t want to be thought of as one-dimensional, and that’s kind of how these songs have been portraying women. So we hope that kind of changes the game just a little bit.”
As the NPR interviewer adeptly pointed out, Maddie & Tae also say that they like some of the Bro-Country songs and artists, and wondered if the girls were presenting a double standard.
“The thing is, we do feel like this trend has been very very consistent. And we want to give this girl that these guys love singing about a voice … We say it’s a tough gig because yes we wear bathing suits and we wear cutoffs, but we do it when we want to, not necessarily when the guy puts us in that place. It is a tough gig because you have to look a certain way to be looked at as a beautiful girl, and that’s one message that we want this song to put out there, that every woman should feel beautiful whether you’re in cutoffs, whether you don’t have tan legs.”
Something else interesting is that when writing the song, the girls put together a checklist of all the things they regularly heard in cliché country songs. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”
“Checklist” was the precursor to the “Bro-Country” term, and has been a overly-consistent trend in country music since 2011. “Checklist” is how Maddie & Tae referenced the trend, not “Bro-Country.”
Over the last 35 years, country protest songs have become an indelible part of country music, and not since “Murder On Music Row” was championed by George Strait and Alan Jackson have we seen a protest song with such importance and success in the mainstream. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from traditional, whether this is to purposely mock the songs that it targets, or to pander to country’s current trends. And of course “Girl In A Country Song” is marketing, looking to re-monetize negative sentiment. But that comes from how the song was underwritten by Big Machine Records, not how it was composed by Maddie & Tae, who by all accounts wrote it with sincerity.
Do the two songs that are set to dominate the summer of 2014—”Girl In A Country Song” by Maddie & Tae, and Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”—signal a shifting of the winds in popular country music towards more substance? It still may be too early to make that determination. But it certainly is worth keeping an eye on, because anti-pop country music sentiment is at an all-time high, right beside the all-time high for country music’s popularity. Sports radio and sports websites are lampooning country regularly. It is the brunt of many pop culture jokes. What Maddie & Tae have done is given a voice to that angst, and they have done so using the same tradition Waylon Jennings started in 1975, which is taking the disappointment one has about the direction of country music, and writing a song about it.
Finally one of the most under-appreciated, but wildly-influential lyricists in country music, one of country music’s forgotten Outlaw artists, and one of America’s most creative personalities is going to get his due on the silver screen. Shel Silverstein is slated to receive the biopic treatment in a film called A Boy Named Shel—a play on words of the song “A Boy Named Sue” made famous by Johnny Cash, and written by Shel. The movie will be a screen adaptation of the book A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein written by Lisa Rogak reports Variety.
The beauty of Shel Silverstein was that he was so many different things to so many different people. To many children and adults who grew up with his books, he was a master poet and illustrator, entertaining generations with his releases such as A Light In The Attic and Where The Sidewalk Ends. To others he was a legendary cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. Still others know him as a lyricist of the rock and roll world, penning the iconic tunes “Cover of Rolling Stone” and “Sylvia’s Mother” for Dr. Hook. While others remember Shel for his country music contributions, including writing songs for other famous songwriters, not limited to Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Tompall Glaser, and Bobby Bare. Bobby Bare once released an entire album of Shel songs. Silverstein also was a noted performer himself and released numerous albums, and also worked in the theater realm.
A Boy Named Shel will explore the “personal and professional struggles” of Shel Silverstein’s life. Silverstein died in 1999 at the age of 68 at his home in Key West. The film is being developed by Wonderland Vision and Sound, known for such films as We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation. Adapting the book for film will be writers Chris Shafer and Vicknair, and Wonderland Vision principals McG and Mary Viola are producing, along with Sean Sorensen and Mathew Cullen.
No word as of yet on whose bald head will reprise the famous cranium of one of America’s most beloved poets and entertainers, or any other casting news. But all signs point to A Boy Named Shel being a big production movie that will hopefully shine a greater light on the man and his work. Shel joins a growing list of country greats receiving the biopic treatment recently. In June it was announced a Hank Williams biopic was in the works, and Waylon Jennings is also supposed to be receiving a feature film soon. Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line went on to be an award-winning account of the Man in Black, and went a long way to revitalizing interest in the country music great.
When the compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws was released in 1976, it became country music’s first million-selling record and made huge stars of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Jessi Colter was already a big star because of her big #1 hit “I’m Not Lisa”. But why did Tompall Glaser never find the big success his fellow Outlaws did? Why wasn’t Tompall able to ride the Outlaw momentum to become one of the biggest names in country music?
A recently-released biography on Tompall Glaser called The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw finally looks to tell the life story of one of the most important figures in the history of country music, but one of the most forgotten. Because Tompall’s impact was mostly felt behind-the-scenes, he arguably has never received proper credit for how he revolutionized country music in the mid 70′s with his renegade studio that broke the major label monopoly on country, and allowed creative freedom to finally reign in Nashville.
The new book, written by blood relative Kevin Glaser who is the nephew of Tompall, includes many interviews with important country music figures from today and from the time of Tompall’s greatest influence; people like Kinky Friedman, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and Marty Stuart. Kevin Glaser also speaks to influential critic and professor Dave Hickey who spent significant time at Glaser Studios in Nashville during the height of the Outlaw movement. In the new biography, Hickey helps explain why Tompall never became as famous as his Outlaw brothers while painting a picture of what the Glaser Sound Studios were like.
From “The Great Tompall”:
Hickey first came to Nashville with an assignment to write a book about Waylon and Willie. He never got around to it since he existed in a “fog of cocaine and dope” during his time at Glaser Sound Studios. He considers the time he spent there as a “studio internship,” and mentioned that because he lived two blocks away, he would sometimes sleep in the studio.
According to Hickey, “Glaser Sound Studio became ‘ground zero’ for the Outlaw Movement (a phrase that Dave claims to have coined), due to the fact that people like Tompall, Waylon, Willie and Neil Reshen were there during this time. This was the moment that country music artists discovered that they didn’t need to ask Chet Atkins’ permission before they could go to the bathroom. The old-time studio system (Acuff-Rose, etc.) could be bypassed. Everyone took control of their own destiny. They had their own publishing companies, studios, managers, etc. They weren’t beholden to record companies or to Billy Sherrill’s idea of what a good song was.”
In Hickey’s mind, the “Rebellious Center of Nashville” during this time included Roger Miller, John Lomax, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Tompall, Billy Swan, and Kinky Friedman, among others. However, Tompall was the “improviasrio of the scene” and the scene was very valuable to a great many people. Tompall was a force to be reckoned with, and he was willing to take chances. A lot of studio time was provided pro bono and involved experimental types of activities…
Hickey said that drugs were the culture of this time period (pre-1985). Glaser Studios certainly wasn’t a “drug alley,” but drugs were certainly there. Tompall got into cocaine later in his career, but he (Hickey) doesn’t think that Tompall was into speed the way Willie and Waylon were. Waylon once said that “speed is pot for people who have to work two shifts per day.” Hickey also remembers that a professional cleaning company once came in to clean up all the smoke from pot and cigarettes that had become attached to the underside of the studio soundboard….
In Hickey’s opinion, Tompall didn’t become as well known as Waylon and Willie because “the obligation of having the recording studio created somewhat of a burden for Tompall, and he was not willing to leave and go on the road for eight weeks and live in a bus, etc. It just wasn’t his thing … and that is the thing that makes performers successful. However, Tompall seemed to be comfortable with the way things were.” Also, Hickey felt that Tompall wasn’t really comfortable with the place he found in the group that included Waylon, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson. There there is a tragedy to the story of Tompall, maybe this is it. Hickey compared Tompall’s place in this group to Bill Wyman’s place in the Rolling Stones, opposite of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
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“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking.”
This is the quote that has been attributed to Waylon Jennings that you are likely to see in much greater frequency now that Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. For some, it is the totality of their argument against Garth. Forget all his music, past and future, whatever merits his music might have beyond the flashy stage show, however much the test of time has validated his music or not. To tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of people, the totality of their Garth hatred, the alpha and omega of their anti-Garth argument, rests on this quote. And if you don’t believe me, just mention Garth’s name in the right (or wrong) company, it it will come flying out at you unsolicited.
The problem is there’s no verifiable records of Waylon ever saying it. And if he did ever say it, that he is the originator of the quote. But just like the urban myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to legally change their name to KFC because the birds they use are so genetically altered they can’t be classified as chickens, if you parrot something enough, people take it as fact.
If I had a hunch, not based on fact or research whatsoever, I would say that at some point Waylon Jennings probably did utter those words about Garth, and they probably made it out to the greater world through his son Shooter Jennings. But I’ve also heard from some who say that Poodie Locke—Willie Nelson’s long-time stage manager and one prone to such humor—was the first to say it. Maybe Waylon picked it up there. But I can’t verify that Poodie Locke said it either. There are records of the “_____ did for ____ what pantyhose did for finger fucking” phrase being used for other purposes way before Garth Brooks had even released his first album, so is it really fair to attribute the analogy to anyone?
When you start to try and find the origination point of the quote, and any factual information on if Waylon truly said it or coined it, you start finding a tremendous amount of fiction. The simple fact is the quote is so juicy, and many people just want it to be real so badly, they’re willing to look the other way and proffer it up for human consumption regardless of the truth.
The first record of the quote being used goes back to of all places, Willie Nelson’s 70th Birthday Party in 2003, and from of all people, actor Ethan Hawke. In April of 2009, Ethan Hawke penned a feature on Kris Kristofferson for Rolling Stone. In the feature, Ethan Hawke recounts a story from 2003 where Kris Kristofferson and Toby Keith get into a verbal argument, and Kristofferson says the Waylon quote in response to Toby Keith’s demand, “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:
“Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.
“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.
“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.
“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”
“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, “Don’t say a word.” Then his eyes found me. “You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?” he whispered.
I shook my head.
“They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”
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Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ‘em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.
In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: ”I have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie’s birthday party — least of all to Toby Keith, (if that’s who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”
As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.
But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.
Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.
Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?
This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,
“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.” Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.
Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.
I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.
Because of Garth’s massive success, there’s a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.
It’s a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those people’s success excuses our meanness.
Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece. In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.
Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,
Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I don’t know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We don’t really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?
Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.
Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.
Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …
The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …
My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.
****UPDATE****UPDATE ***** UPDATE ***** UPDATE****
(6-18-2014 2:25 PM CDT): According to Luke Bryan, there is no Miley Cyrus duet coming. On Wednesday, Luke posted via Twitter, “Why is everyone asking if I’m doing a duet with miley. Not true.” As reported below, NASH’s America’s Morning Show co-host Chuck Wicks had reported Luke Bryan and Miley Cyrus were had a duet in the pipeline, and the rumor was later “confirmed” by radio personality Blair Garner (read confirmation tweet). Read more below.
****UPDATE****UPDATE ***** UPDATE ***** UPDATE****
Pop country cash cow Luke Bryan and pop star progeny Miley Cyrus could have a collaboration in the works according to various sources, including country music artist and co-host of NASH’s America’s Morning Show Chuck Wicks. On Monday morning’s program, Wicks conveyed to listeners that Luke Bryan and Miley Cyrus have a duet coming, though he gave no specifics on how the collaboration may take shape. Then another host of the show, radio personality Blair Garner confirmed the information through another source. America’s Morning Show is Cumulus Media’s syndicated NASH flagship based out of New York City.
Neither the Luke Bryan or Miley Cyrus camps have announced or confirmed anything.
Luke Bryan is arguably the biggest crossover star in country music right now, and a Miley Cyrus is not that far down in stature in the pop world. Still, a collaboration seems like somewhat of a stretch for both artists. Miley has said numerous times that despite the country music lineage from her father Billy Ray Cyrus, she would rather avoid the country music world. She told Parade Magazine in 2010 of why she never dabbled in country, “It scares me, that’s why. It feels contrived on so many levels. Unless you’re wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and singing and whining about your girlfriend or boyfriend leaving you it’s not going to sell. I think that’s why my dad finally got out of it. You have to wear those cowboy boots and be sweet as pie. It makes me nervous, the politics of it all.”
Still, according to Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley was born and bred around Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, and she does a pretty blistering version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” (Dolly is also Miley’s godmother). Of course it’s not likely this collaboration would be traditional country, and there’s also no promises it would be country at all. Certainly Luke Bryan and country music have moved so far towards pop where there may not be anything country about the duet at all.
Another interesting tidbit: At the ACM awards in April co-hosted by Luke Bryan, he made a playful dig at Miley in the opening monologue. “Jake [Owen] lost a finger in a go-cart accident,” Luke said. “You know where they found it? On Miley Cyrus’ tour bus. It was takin’ a selfie and smokin’ a doobie.”
For what it’s worth, here’s Luke Bryan covering Miley a few years ago.
On Saturday night (5-31), Valory Music Group artist Brantley Gilbert headlined the Blue Ridge Music Festival in Salem, Virginia, with Thomas Rhett, ABC Nashville actress and singer Clare Bowen, and Travis Tritt opening for him. Apparently what transpired stimulated Travis Tritt to take to Twitter to question the level of respect he and his fellow openers were treated with, and the respect he and other aging artists are receiving in general. Here are the Tweets in sequential order.
Even though @BrantleyGilbert only gave us 8 feet of stage, we had a great time performing for everyone @BlueRidgeFest tonight. Great crowd! My word of advice to all up and coming performers: Don’t kick anymore asses on your way up than you are willing to kiss on your way down! I’ve always treated my heroes and peers with respect. I’ve respected everyone from George Jones, Waylon and Charlie Daniels who opened.
Then Tritt tended to soften his stance as the tweets continued.
I doubt very seriously if @Brantley Gilbert knows how disrespectful his stage setup is to those who open for him. However, I’m just saying. Regardless of circumstances, I love performing for an appreciative audience. The folks make the show for me. Nobody appreciates y’all more! Make no mistake, @BrantleyGilbert is a fellow Georgia boy. He deserves whatever place he has carved for himself in the biz …. All I’m saying is that his handlers/management should be a little more aware of how he comes off to those he works with. No disrespect. Everyone in this biz knows we can’t please everyone, in spite of our best intentions. However, non of us can fix what we don’t know is wrong.
About an hour later, Tritt added:
Know this. I’ve had openers from Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, Little Texas, Joe Diffie, Lynyrd Skynyrd & LeRoy Parnell over the years …. And I’ve always personally made sure that they had all the stage space and production that they needed to put on the best show possible.
No response has been seen from Brantley Gilbert, who has not posted a Tweet since May 30th. Gilbert at the moment is promoting his recently released Just As I Am album which has been surprising people with its sales numbers and debuted at #1 in country music.
Tritt’s snipping of Gilbert’s nose (or at least his crew and management’s) is reminiscent of last summer when artists began speaking out like never before about the direction of the genre and the lack of respect for older artists, arguably crowned by Zac Brown who called Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night” the “Worst Song Ever.”
In January, Travis Tritt also had some criticism of the direction of the country music business, telling Peter Cooper of The Tennessean:
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.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read that comedian and country music performer Brad Paisley‘s new album due out August 26th was called Moonshine in the Truck and “sees Paisley adapting the modern technology of EDM and dubstep to the classic country formula.”
Just read this following quote from Brad Paisley, if you can somehow comprehend it and make it all the way through, while understanding this is supposed to be a country music artist, and one of the “good guys” at that.
“When you hear a banjo through stutter edit, it’s the coolest thing you ever heard,” Paisley told Billboard. “I have a song that’s a basic love song, it’s got a great groove, and I cut this guitar part that gets distorted when I turn the nob up. I would say to Luke [Wooten, the producer], ‘Oh, that should’ve been done 20 years ago, but they couldn’t.’”
You’re making crazy talk Brad that I don’t exactly understand, but I’ll take it as a sign that yet another one bites the dust, gives up the ghost, pulls a Benedict Arnold, and has migrated to the other team. Please turn in your cowboy hat on the way out the door.
This is the problem folks. You try to be a pragmatist. You try to find some common ground. Hey, Paisley is a likeable guy: funny, smart, and yes, a great guitar player. But everywhere you look, as someone who simply cares a little bit about the sound that traditionally is considered to be country music, just paying scant attention is an exercise in getting socked in the nuts while being told you’re a closed-minded idiot who just wants all music to sound like Hank Williams. “You know, music has to evolve, man! They said Waylon wasn’t country either! Patsy Cline was pop too!”
And then it gets even worse from Mr. Paisley if you can believe it.
“The rulebook’s gone, or was there ever one?” Brad says. “They try, but I don’t play by it.”
Oh come on Brad, you played by the rulebook for fifteen years, and now by going in some “EDM” direction, you’re conforming to the rules more than ever. Breaking the rules on Music Row these days means actually playing country music. That’ll get you 86′d from your major label deal and knocking on the doors of Americana faster than anything. It’s like what songwriter Luke Laird recently said to The New York Times: “Right now, to write a country rap, it’s almost predictable. It’s more of a risk to write a traditional country song.”
And possibly the worst commentary about all of this is that it’s not even shocking that Brad Paisley’s next album will be “EDM inspired.” Of course it will be. It’s predicable, and expected, and virtually required. And meanwhile the dissent that was being levied last summer by many worried artists about all this madness in country music has gone hush.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. I guess we should just wait for the bass to drop.
Garth! Hey buddy, it’s been a long time. Yeah, I know, we’ve seen each other in passing here and there. Some appearances at the award shows and such, and that whole thing out in Vegas and the recent box set release, though I’m not really sure if any of that counts. But hey, don’t worry, I’m not jumping on your butt or anything. You hung the moon for me for over a decade, and no matter what you decide to do from here on out, I’m forever in your debt for taking me to levels I thought were never possible, flying over stadiums on suspension wires and inspiring the Billy Ray Cyrus’s of the world notwithstanding. Hell I don’t even know that I can get worked up about all of that stuff anymore, or about your whole Chris Gaines gimmick, or for trying out for the Padres baseball team. I get it now. You were bored. You had climbed the mountain, conquered it, and were looking for the next challenge. Well let me tell you Garth, if you’re looking for a good challenge, I’ve got one. A big one. And this is one you might be able to accomplish. In fact, you might be the only one left on Earth who can.
Don’t think for a second that I blame you for taking a dozen-plus years off to spend time with your family, please. In fact I commend you for it. If we all spent a little more time putting family first, this probably would be a much more pleasant world to live in. Hell, don’t think the idea of dialing it all back doesn’t cross my mind every damn day, yet here I am working like a three-peckered billy goat. Do you know they say that country music is the biggest American music genre now? Ha, did you ever think we’d see that day Garth?
But this is the problem old friend. They’ve thrown the barn doors wide, and now everybody and their cousin is calling themselves country, and it’s gotten completely out of control. Be careful what you wish for, right Garth? I mean we’ve got DJ’s who don’t do anything but stand behind a couple of turntables pressing buttons now calling themselves country, rappers calling themselves country, hard rockers calling themselves country. It’s to the point now where I yearn for the days where Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift were the biggest pains in my ass. I look back now at the time when they said you were ruining the genre as the good ol’ days. By the way, do you have any idea if Waylon Jennings ever really said that line, “Garth Brooks did to country music what pantyhose did to finger $#@!ing?” Because for the life of me, I can’t verify it anywhere. And yeah, I know I just censored myself. But to some of us Garth, country music is still a family format.
I’m swallowing my pride here Garth. I need your help. Whether it was you and I pairing up in the in the 90′s to sell all those records that truly stimulated all these problems in the first place or not, the simple fact is you and I coming back together could maybe spell the end of it, or at least restoring some sort of balance to where if someone turns on their radio and tunes it to a country station, they might actually hear something that sounds like country.
I know there’s no need to pry you off you’re couch or anything; you’ve already got all the plans in the works for your big triumphant return, so this is not the direction my pleas are headed. What I want to implore you to do Garth is to keep it country. For the love of all things holy, keep it country. Please, as a favor to your old pal. Just be yourself. This is no longer about about trying to turn away the hordes who will call anything “country.” Truth is they won the battle years ago. That ship has sailed. This is about storming the gates ourselves, and taking back what is ours. You may be the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music, but as I’m sure you know Garth, country music is bigger than any one person (not to gloat, but you know…), and it is the responsibility of everyone, however big or small, to preserve and protect the country music institution, especially an artist like yourself whose benefited in the manner of untold riches from it.
They can say what they want about you Garth. There are old codgers and punks out there that will bad mouth your name no matter how the rules of the game change, and how much time redeems your past accomplishments. Actually, you want to put those critics to bed? Simply put out a true country album that is successful, and those people’s anger will turn to nostalgia and appreciation. I know deep inside of you is still that little boy from Oklahoma that grew up listening to Merle Haggard and George Jones; that appealed to the masses not by borrowing from other genres, but from finding and writing meaningful songs and singing them from the heart. Some focus on your wireless mic and your flawless, almost too-perfect presentation. But I focus in the fire in your eye, the aching moan in your voice that mimics a steel guitar the comes bursting through the mix to remind us all of the magic that country music can evoke when done right.
And you Garth, and only you, may still have the power at this late hour to remind the masses of that magic.
You did it once for the money Garth. Now, do it once for the music. Because we need it now more than ever.
Your once strained, but now rehabilitated and appreciative friend,
Have you ever heard of Justin Guarini? How about Diana DeGarmo? Blake Lewis, anybody? Or how about Lee DeWyze? Does Dia Frampton ring a bell with anyone? Anyone?
Dia Frampton was a contestant on the inaugural season of NBC’s reality singing contest The Voice. Frampton, like all of the other names listed above, was either a runner up, or a winner of either The Voice or American Idol. And there’s an infinite list of other indistinguishable names from where these names came from: singers that reached the very heights of reality show competition, only to fade back into the unknown masses once the next season kicked off. Reality singing show nerds might be laughing at me right now, knowing all of these names, and the styles and stats of each artist. And so maybe to them, I’m the one who needs to fade back into the unknown masses. But even those people should hang with me for just a second more.
Not to pick on poor Dia Frampton, but let’s just take a look back at what happened to her after she made it onto The Voice finale, and almost won. In December of 2011, Dia released an album called Red through Universal Republic Records. How did the album do? It reached a peak of #106 on the Billboard charts. The album’s lone single “The Broken Ones” didn’t chart at all. But in reality, that’s not bad compared to the actual Season 1 winner of The Voice, Javier Colon. His album peaked at #134 on the Billboard charts. In fact Javier, who had his own successful music career before The Voice, released an album way back in 2003 that made it to #91 on Billboard—43 spots better than the album contracted to him after his big reality show win.
Of course for all these types of anecdotal stories about reality show winners, there are success stories such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and to a lesser extent, artists like Kellie Pickler and Scotty McCreery. But many of these big stars came from the first few seasons of American Idol, while many other finalists and winners have completely dropped off the map or have taken to starring in other reality show competitions, or reprising B-level acting roles to attempt to keep the momentum of their big reality show win rolling.
And this brings us to the matter of the young, fresh-faced finalist on The Voice, Jake Worthington. Jake finished 2nd and has captured the hearts and imaginations of many traditional country fans by wearing a big cowboy hat, and singing Keith Whitley songs on the show every chance he got, along with songs from Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and others throughout the competition. Hey, that’s great. Great for this kid, and great that good, real country music is being exposed to the masses through him. But how many times have we been through this exercise with one of these reality show contestants, wondering if they are the ones that will rise out of the unclean masses to save country music with big reality show exposure?
I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. Jake Worthington seems like a really good kid, and good on Blake Shelton for shepherding him to the top level of the competition, and doing so while letting him keep his voice and style instead of swaying him in a more pop direction. But the reason that The ‘X’ Factor was canceled, the reason that American Idol has seen dramatically-declining ratings, and The Voice has remained stagnant, is because these competitions cannot consistently deliver winners that truly are American Idols, or that truly define “The Voice” of a generation.
Producers try to shake up the production, they shove more star power into these shows than the viewer can compute. ABC, despite the writing on the wall that with so many of these singing shows, they’re cannibalizing each other, is still starting their own competition come next season. But these shows are not delivering on their promise to the American public of delivering stars that they will then see selling out arenas, and performing on the Grammy Awards. That is why the singing reality show model is losing steam.
Opportunity is only what you make of it, and regardless of what the marketeers of these shows try to sell you on, the simple fact is nobody has the power to anoint a star. The winners themselves must still rise to find themselves, must still figure out a way to connect with the public at large. Some stars have done this like Carrie Underwood. Many haven’t like Javier Colon.
Let’s not overlook that it says a lot about the appeal of traditional country music that an artist like Jake Worthington even made it as far as the finals of The Voice. Everywhere you turn there’s people preaching to you that nobody wants to hear traditional country anymore, and it can be argued that Jake Worthington’s coach, Blake Shelton, has been one of the loudest champions of this sentiment. But whether it is Shelton changing course by seeing the blossoming of Jake Worthington right before his eyes, or the American public letting their voice be known by voting for Worthington, George Strait winning Entertainer of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards this last year, or even the recent announcement that Big Machine Records is partnering with Cumulus to reintegrate classic country artists into the fold, everywhere where traditional country is given a chance, it proves that it’s appeal and resonance with the American people is not on the wane as many would have you believe.
And don’t discount Mr. Worthington just because his path led through a reality show. At this point, with artists like Dan+Shay being nominated for awards before they’ve even released an album, and previous reality show contestants like Kellie Pickler putting out albums like 100 Proof that end up becoming the best country music has to offer in a given year, the most important question to ask is not where the artist came from, but what they accomplish with the opportunity they’ve been given.
Jake Worthington’s success, and the renewed interest in traditional country that might bestow, has much less to do with The Voice and where he placed, and much more to do with Jake Worthington, and if he has the stuff to speak to people’s hearts, and the guts to stick to who he is as an artist.
Our job is to help him.
I hate writing reviews like this. So I’m supposed to sit here and peck out a bunch of words to convince you to buy this damn thing? … an album many people are calling a “masterpiece” and the “best album in years”? The only person’s opinion about Metamodern Sounds in Country Music that truly matters is Sturgill Simpson’s papaw—the guy that introduces this album at the beginning of the first track. And by all accounts, he’s beaming about it. And so that’s all you really need to know. If more country artists used their grandparents as barometers on quality, I could probably board this URL up and do something that actually pays.
Just go and buy this record already. I really don’t have much else else to add, except to say that all these people reciting that Sturgill is like a modern Waylon Jennings aren’t listening beyond shallow observances based on his voice. And yes, lizard aliens and LSD are loosely mentioned in first song “Turtles All The Way Down”, and maybe similar cosmic themes are touched on here and there. But I don’t feel comfortable calling Metamodern Sounds a concept album. Sturgill actually touches on a wide variety of subjects during these ten tracks. “Long White Line” is very much a traditional country traveling song, though there may be some deeper underlying themes present there. And “Pan Bowl” is a very personal account of Sturgill’s hometown. Metamodern Sounds isn’t “out there,” it’s right where it’s supposed to be.
And to all these people saying that this album is one of the best they’ve heard in years, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, but I still hear much room for improvement. Then again, I’ve also seen Sturgill’s talents on full display. Even Sturgill says in the song “Life of Sin”, “And the boys and me are still working on the sound.” Sturgill is just now starting to hit is stride people, trust me. I’m half convinced half the things he does are just to screw with all of us. Once you realize that, then you really begin to unlock the true wisdom and enjoyment in his music. And before you go saying this is one of the best country records ever, understand Sturgill will likely have many more to come.
Or hopefully he will. Just five weeks ago, I got a smattering of emails from a group of attendees at a Sturgill concert that said he’d announced on stage that he was quitting music. Game over. Something about having a baby on the way and needing to “do the right thing” and contemplating moving back out West to work for the railroad again. Everyone said the show was great, but that Sturgill was moody, and left without shaking any hands. The next day Sturgill was on the radio in Kentucky for a lengthy interview, and I listened in intently, a draft of “Sturgill Simpson Quits Music” already in the works. And of course, he mentioned not a word along those lines. A couple of days later, NPR is premiering his video for “Turtles All The Way Down”, and next thing you know you can’t launch a web browser without seeing his name somewhere. Signal the all clear. Maybe it was just Sturgill’s way of getting us to not pay so much attention.
There are a few things that bother me with this album. Though the live approach of cutting the record in a few days with the band all together makes for a good feel for your recordings, I could have also seen splurging just a little bit to procure better backing vocals for the chorus in “A Little Light” and for the harmony line on the hidden track “Pan Bowl”. And here we go again with an album that has this tape hiss hampering the clarity of the recording throughout. Yes I get it, this hiss is the side effect of the “warmth” you get from a non-digital approach, and you’d rather deal with it than the alternative: a dead sound. But we’re making lots of albums that I’m afraid the future will look back on and wonder why we purposely made sound bad. There’s a balance here between analog and clarity that is being missed by some of the best albums being put out today. When Sturgill’s voice soars when he takes a chorus to his highest register, I just want to hear it without it getting corroded. Sure maybe it’s wishful thinking to even entertain this train of thought, but commercial radio will never get behind that hissey, “classic” sound.
“It Ain’t All Flowers” is the song on this album you’re going to either love or hate. Though some may think they hear turntable action and wonder if Sturgill has gone all hip-hop on us, the effects are more the result of tape playback and other audio hijinks. Not to level an accusation of predictability at Sturgill, but second albums from artists tend to include a stretching of boundaries so that they don’t become boxed into any sound that they then must be beholden to for the rest of their career. I don’t have a problem personally with “It Ain’t All Flowers”, though it does stretch out a little too long to where it begins to feel a little self-indulgent. I’ve also experienced this song live (at least I think it was this one), and it blew the doors off of the version that made it onto this recording.
Another polarizing decision for some will be the inclusion of 80′s one hit wonder When In Rome’s song “The Promise”. This is Sturgill teaching us all a lesson, and one we should heed. Every great song has a missive that resonates universally, and genres are just the clothing that make those missives more compatible to our familiarities. Sturgill and his band do more justice to this song than the original does.
With Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson doesn’t just capture our ears, he captures our imaginations. However misguided the notion is, most every disenfranchised country music fan harbors the idea that at some point some true country artist is going to come along that is so good, it is going to tip the scales back in the right direction. What Metamodern Sounds does is it gives the true country music listener hope beyond the happiness the music conveys. It resolves that ever-present conflict between sticking to the traditional sound, but progressing forward.
Sturgill Simpson’s first album High Top Mountain was just establishing the baseline. He was half bored with it himself by the time it was released. I was disheartened when I heard the rumors that Sturgill Simpson might be quitting music, but I wasn’t surprised. I remember sitting in a packed church cathedral in downtown Austin in March as part of Sturgill’s official SXSW showcase. It was completely quiet during and in between songs aside for the roaring applause right after each song, and after watching Sturgill play the first half dozen songs of the set, I truly wondered to myself, “Do I even like country music?” I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling Sturgill Simpson was wondering the same thing. Then he started to play some of the songs from Metamodern Sounds, and the answer became emphatically, “Yes!”
We’re just going to have to accept that Sturgill Simpson is a weird one: moody, dark, yet slowly trending toward some version of eternal optimism and happiness even the most cheerful and balanced among us will likely never achieve. “A picture’s worth 1,000 words, but a word ain’t worth a dime,” is what Sturgill says in one of the best-written songs on the album called “Voices”, and I can’t help but feel the barb of that song is pointed at people like me that start of by telling you they have nothing to say, and eight paragraphs later, still don’t feel like they’ve given you a proper summation of their thoughts.
It’s not time yet to be making comparisons to Red Headed Stranger, or even to Phases & Stages. These are things only time and history can decide. Yet Metamodern Sounds in Country Music hasn’t even been out for a full day, and it has already reached that critical mass state any independent release can, where no matter where you turn, you find people singing its praises. Where does Metamodern Sounds, Sturgill Simpson, and country music go from here? We’ll have to see. But right now, right at this very moment, not some famous son, not some Americana artist you have to squint at to construe as country, but Sturgill Simpson, and Sturgill Simpson alone, defines the pinnacle, and what is relevant in the here and now of independent country music. And he’s done it from the sheer strength of this album.
Two guns up.
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Whenever the name of country star Jake Owen comes up, it’s quickly proceeded by stories from fans talking about how down-to-earth Jake is for an artist of his stature. From many accounts, Jake Owen goes the extra mile: hanging out with tailgaters before and after shows, taking groups of fans out to unexpectedly on lake trips, and performing other similar gestures that show he doesn’t see himself as better than anyone else.
Last year when country artists began to speak out about the direction of country like never before, Jake Owen became one of the most vocal, taking a couple of occasions to say that country music needed to get back to more substance. In October of 2013, Jake Owen said in part, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . .” Then in December of 2013, Jake Owen doubled down on his critical comments, saying,
I don’t mean to sound negative. I love country music right now, it’s awesome. But I’m guilty of it, too. We all have songs that we’re tending to put out because they’re working and it’s helping our careers. But songs like ‘The Thunder Rolls’ or John Michael Montgomery’s ‘Life’s a Dance,’ they were songs that meant something to people. You don’t hear a lot of those songs anymore….People were like, that’s real. There are so many songs now, and I have them, too, that are [about] sunshine, blue eyes, a tan. That’s not always real to everyone all the time. Or passing moonshine jars around. People do that when they’re kids, but people also grow up. . . . It’s important to have all kinds of songs.
Well apparently Jake Owen isn’t just a man of talk, he’s a man of action, and one virtually unknown country artist from Arizona is set to be the beneficiary of Owen’s good nature, and desire to see more substance in the format.
Tony Martinez is a well-seasoned traditional country artist and touring sideman for multiple projects, and by a strange twist of fate, will be filling the time between acts on Jake Owen’s Days of Gold arena tour starting May 15th in Huntington, West Virginia, going until at least late August.
It all started in Arizona at The Phoenix Open golf tournament in Scottsdale the last week of January. Tony was playing a party leading up to the event when Jake Owen saw him.
“Tuesday night there was the draw party for the Pro Am I got to play in,” Jake Owen explains. “So there I was, waiting to find out who we were going to play with, and this guy’s playing a guitar and singing over in the corner of the room you know, and I’m just mesmerized by how badass this guy is. I don’t know him from Adam. I’ve never met him in my life. But I had to go up to him after—I think we ended up getting hammered as hell that night by the way—and I said, ‘Dude, it’s going to be packed at The Bird’s Nest when I play there.’ And I said, ‘I want you to come out on stage with me and sing some badass old school country songs with me for a little bit if that’s okay.’”
So Jake invited Tony Martinez out on stage in front of the 15,000-person capacity crowd at The Bird’s Nest, and the two men proceeded to play the classic country songs “Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed, and Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenbach, TX” while the crowd roared (see below).
After Tony Martinez went over so well, Jake decided to recruit Tony to play between sets while the respective bands on the Days of Gold tour change over. Eli Young Band, and The Cadillac Three also are playing on the current lineup of the Days of Gold tour.
Tony Martinez started out playing as part of the vibrant independent country scene that exists in Phoenix, AZ. The weekly Valley Fever events at the Yucca Tap Room every Sunday night hosted by Dana Armstrong have become a staple of the Phoenix country music scene, and along with Tony Martinez, have also been a proving ground for Ray Lawrence Jr. who landed on a Hank Williams III record a while back, Robert Perez and Junction 10, and many other excellent country artists.
“I met him about 7 years ago when he came to the Yucca with Chip Hanna to play at Valley Fever,” says Valley Fever’s Dana Armstrong “We were all blown away by his raw talent. Since then, he just got better and better and quickly rose to the top of the Arizona country music scene. Not only is he a phenomenal musician and singer, he is also a natural performer. He’s born to be on stage. No matter what he’s playing, he makes it seem effortless, but heartfelt. Never a dull moment when Tony’s on stage.”
Martinez just finished multiple dates playing pedal steel guitar for J.P. Harris & the Tough Choices on the road, and after a recent move to Nashville, has been playing regularly at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn and the Full Moon Saloon on Lower Broadway.
“I was really excited when Jake came to me with the idea of going on his first headlining arena tour,” says Tony Martinez. “It gives me an opportunity to not only play my own songs in front of thousands of people that wouldn’t normally hear them, but also to expose a whole new crowd of people to the kind of music that has fallen by the wayside to the mainstream market. I think that making headway within that demographic is an important step in shifting the mainstream culture. Jake opened the door for me to try and do that. Hopefully I can make some kind of difference.”
Tony Martinez with Jake Owen:
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