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Okay, Red Sovine only pondered killing Waylon and Willie in hyperbole and sarcasm. In fact by all accounts this succulent little lost country classic was written and recorded as a tribute to the success of the two Outlaw country music greats. And as one of the very last recordings trucker song overlord Red Sovine ever made, and one that was released in a much more straight-laced time in country music when its genius may have been lost on most, it only seems fair to resurrect it now and shine a spotlight on it for our listening enjoyment.
The song is called “The Waylon & Willie Machine,” and its wise-ass take on the two Texan’s success speaks to just how big Waylon & Willie were back in the mid to late 70′s. The song was originally written and recorded by country and rockabilly artist Marvin Rainwater with co-writer Max D. Barnes (George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” and Waylon’s “Drinkin’ and Dreamin’” just to name a few). Marvin Rainwater recorded the song with Jesse Fletcher on the very small “Okie” imprint at some point in the late 70′s (listen below), but very few 7″ copies were made.
Then Red Sovine got a hold of it in 1979 and released it on a 45 himself through Gusto Records, with Colorado Cool Aid on the flip side. Sovine’s would become the definitive version … if there was one. The song never made it on an album (Sovine passed away on April 4th, 1980 of a heart attack), and it was never released properly as a single, probably because it would be misunderstood by DJ’s and listeners alike. But listening to it now some 35 years later, the entertainment value hasn’t waned, but grown better with age.
At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards Sunday night, country legends Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard performed a medley of songs together along with Blake Shelton, with the occasion being Kris Kristofferson receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award and having his first self-titled album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. But this grouping wasn’t accidental, or an augmented version of the supergroup The Highwaymen that Willie and Kris were once a part of with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
A long-planned, and even longer-rumored album and grouping of Willie, Merle, and Kris called “The Musketeers” has been in the works for years. Saving Country Music first reported on the potential supergroup in January of 2011 when the three men were assembled as part of Merle Haggard’s recognition by the Kennedy Center Honors. Haggard told Rolling Stone at the time:
We got to eat a little something together. We didnât know what the hell this food was, but we thought it was funny. We (Merle and Willie) talked about doing that together, but with the presence of Kris, we talked about the three of us doing it. Iâm sure if weâre healthy and live to do it, weâll do it. We thought about the title: the Musketeers. You know, because thereâs the three of us. Weâll come up with some little way of describing ourselves I guess and put it together into a show.
“The Musketeers” might just be a placeholder for the eventual name, but apparently the three Country Music Hall of Famers are still serious about the idea, and are working on music. When asked by Billboard before The Grammy Awards if a collaboration between the three men could be in the offing, Willie Nelson responded, “We’re working on one now.” When asked when fans could expect something, and if it could be this year, Willie responded, “As soon as we get it together. Could be.”
Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson have toured together in an acoustic show numerous times since 2009, and Willie Nelson worked with Merle Haggard in 2007 on the album Last of The Breed. Willie and Merle also collaborated on the Townes Van Zandt classic “Pancho & Lefty.”
Finally stimulating The Musketeers to go from talk to actual tracks might be the recent revelation from Kris Kristofferson that he’s beginning to experience memory issues.
The country song protesting the direction of country music has in many respects just as much tradition and lineage in country music now as many of the genre’s other defining elements. From Waylon Jennings’ #1 single “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” in 1975, to the song “Murder on Music Row” that was the CMA Song of the Year in 2001, to Dale Watson and Hank Williams III’s recent chest-pounding protest songs, as long as the business of country music has been trying to veer the music off of its true path, there’s been artists willing to take a bold stand and speak out against it.
In many ways the country protest song has become so prolific in its own right, sometimes they can trend toward cliche in a somewhat similar vein to the songs they are looking to criticize. But to see such sentiment coming from a 15-year-old songwriter and performer in an original composition speaks to both the depth and degree of country music’s current wayward trajectory, and the wisdom and talent of the songwriter and performer penning such a tune.
Williamson Branch is a bluegrass and country band from Nashville, and their 15-year-old fiddle and guitar player Melody Williamson recently wrote a song called “There’s No Country Here.” Despite her age, Music Row would be wise to remove themselves for their laundry list clatter and listen to what the future of country music has to say about where country music is headed.
5 out of 5 stars.
What made Johnny Cash the ultimate badass was his ability to bridge people together regardless of taste in music, cultural differences, or political ideology. Johnny Cash could tackle some of the most difficult issues facing a tumultuous American society as it saw the emergence of rock and roll and the counterculture because they man had such an air of respect about him. When he spoke, everyone quieted, and listened. Great music and musicians dominate genres. Legends transcend genres. It’s is quite the daunting challenge to find someone who doesn’t have something nice to say about Johnny Cash regardless of sex, race, creed, status, or cultural background.
1. Intercepting the News of the Death of Joseph Stalin
That’s right, the first American to hear about the death of the ruthless Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and report it to the United States government was none other than the Man in Black. Johnny Cash spent 4 years in the Air Force, rising to Staff Sargent, and working in Landsberg, West Germany for the Air Force Security Service. The name of Cashâs first band was âThe Landsberg Barbarians,â an homage to the German town he called home.
While stationed in Landsburg, Cash was working as a Morse Code Intercept Operator, monitoring transmissions from the Soviet Army. Around March 5th, 1953, he was translating Morse signals when can came upon the important information. At the height of hostilities during the Cold War, this intelligence was considered crucial.
Cash was honorably discharged from the Air Force in July of 1954 to pursue his career in music.
2. Recording “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
It was the song that made Kris Kristofferson a household name, but it wasn’t Ray Stevens’ version of it in 1969 that stalled at #55 on the charts, or Kristofferson’s own version which didn’t chart at all that made it such an iconic part of the American songbook. It was Johnny Cash’s take on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that took it all the way to #1 in 1970, and eventually to being named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association.
It’s because only Johnny Cash had the credibility and undying loyalty of the country music community to sing what was a controversial song at the time, and have people listen through the controversy to the heart of the story that Kristoffersoon had so eloquently captured.
Johnny Cash wasn’t a country music Outlaw in the traditional sense, but he was an honorary Outlaw in every sense, and when he sang “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” he took Kristofferson from a barely-known songwriter to a national celebrity.
3. Concerts and Albums From Folsom and San Quentin Prisons
Probably the most obvious of Johnny Cash’s badass moments, but ones that cannot be understated in their significance both musically and culturally, Johnny Cash performed at The Folsom State Prison and the San Quentin Prison—two notorious lockups in California—in 1968 and 1969 respectively, with the live recordings taken from the concerts becoming significant and commercially successful live albums that are given credit for being some of the best ever in country music.
Johnny Cash played two shows at Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968, resulting in 15 live tracks for the At Folsom Prison Album. At San Quentin was recorded on February 24, 1969 and was more of a linear recording of the event, though the original LP took out some songs because of space restrictions. The two albums are given credit for resurrecting Cash’s career, while raising awareness about the issues facing individuals in incarceration, and bridging cultural differences between music fans during a tumultuous time in America. If people were not aware before, Johnny Cash’s prison albums announced to the world inside and outside of country music that he truly was a badass.
4. Having A Smoke With A.P. Carter
Depending on who to talk to, the father of country music is either the singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers, or the patriarch of the Carter Family, A.P. Cater. Seeing how Johnny Cash married into the Carter Family, he would probably say the answer is the latter.
Producer, songwriter, and cosmic music man “Cowboy” Jack Clement was famous for shooting home movies when hanging around his musical friends and cohorts, and he was fortunate enough to have captured the moment Johnny Cash decided to drive out to the grave site of A.P. Carter at the Mount Vernon Methodist Church Cemetery in Virginia to have a smoke with the man responsible for the first ever commercial country music group. The clip below comes from the movie Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies.
Johnny Cash’s efforts to help the less fortunate throughout his life have been well-documented, and on June 10th 1978 at the annual United Nations Citation Dinner in New York City, he was presented with the United Nations Humanitarian Award.
6. Hosting the Million Dollar Songwriter Circle
Youâve all heard about the âMillion Dollar Quartetââthe recording session at legendary Sun Studios in Memphis on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cashâs home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world.
The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place. âThat night in my house [was] the first time these songs were heardâŚâ Johnny Cash explains. âJoni Mitchell sang âBoth Sides Now,â Graham Nash sang âMarrakesh Express,â Shel Silverstein sang âA Boy Named Sue,â Bob Dylan sang âLay Lady Lay,â and Kristofferson sang âMe & Bobby McGee.â That was the first time any of those songs were heard.â (read more on the Million Dollar Songwriter Circle)
7. Sharing an Apartment with Waylon Jennings
Before Johnny Cash married June Carter, and before Waylon Jennings married Jessi Colter, and the two men were picking up the pieces from recent divorces, they shared a pad at the Fontaine Royal Apartments in Madison, Tennessee, just north of Nashville. At that time in the mid-60′s, Johnny Cash was a star, but Waylon was still a newcomer. By all accounts, the two men would barely see each other, and would be in and out at all manner of the day and night, leave on tour, come back, be out the next morning for a studio session, usually while taking trucker pills and sleeping very little.
Stories abound about some of the happenings at Fontaine Royal, with some considering it to be the equivalent of a country music “stabbin’ cabin.” One story says as the two men would walk by the swimming pool on their way in or out, throwing money into it for the neighborhood kids to dive in and retrieve. Oh, to be a fly on that wall….
8. Releasing Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian
Many artists and people talk and good talk about supporting the so often wronged American Indian, but Johnny Cash stepped up to the plate and did so in a big way when he released this concept album paying tribute to the stories and struggles of the American Indian. Johnny Cash had Cherokee blood in his family, and claims this was one of the inspirations for the album.
Aside from the music, this album is significant in so many other ways. Though Willie Nelson’s conceptualized albums Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger are often given credit for being the first conceptualized albums in country music, Bitter Tears came out in 1964; a decade before those Willie records. Furthermore the album was released ahead of the popularization of Native American issues that happened in the late 60′s as part of the counterculture movement. Way more than a trendy work looking to exploit a pet issue of guilt-riddled baby boomers,Â Bitter Tears was a groundbreaking approach to the album concept in country music that carried a sincere concern and reverence for the American Indian, illustrating Cash’s dedication as a humanitarian throughout his career.
9. Inviting Bob Dylan on the Johnny Cash Show
The Johnny Cash show was badass enough in its own right in how Johnny reached out to every corner of the American music world to create magical, legendary moments on a weekly basis from the Ryman Auditorium. The Johnny Cash Show Ran from ran from June of 1969 to March of 1971 on ABC, featuring a total of 58 episodes and not a bad one in the bunch.
But if one episode stood out, it was Bob Dylan’s appearance in 1969 around his recording of his Nashville Skyline record. It symbolized the confluence of two music worlds, and two titans of them and the results were magic. From the original Rolling Stone article covering the event:
The Dylan appearance was no secret in Nashville, fortunately. It goes without saying that Cash fans are as baffled by Dylan’s emergence here as Dylan freaks were startled at the news of this new axis. But they all lined up outside the Opry: businessmen and their wives, country boys, bald heads, acid heads, bee-hive bouffant blondes, drawling teenyboppers and other assorted traveling wonderers. There is no doubt that a good part of the audience was there just to see Cash and didn’t know what all the fuss was about. But the seats and aisles of the Opry were full, and Dylan did not lack a fine representation of people familiar with his work.
10. Recording “Hurt” From NIN’s Trent Reznor
There were many songs, especially from Johnny Cash’s American Recordings era that The Man In Black took from great to legendary, but none resonated so deeply with a generation like this one. “Hurt” off of the Nine Inch Nails’ album The Downward Spiral from 1994 was nominated for a Grammy in 1996, but wasn’t an especially well-known song outside of the industrial music mindset. It certainly wasn’t on the radar of country fans when Cash cut it in 2002, but it became arguably his last big hit, and the doorway for an entire new generation of fans to find love for Johnny Cash, helped along by an iconic video.
11. (Bonus) Flipping The Warden The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot at the Cash concert in 1969 at Californiaâs San Quentin prison by photographer Jim Marshall. The pose was the result of Cashâs response to the request: âJohn, letâs do a shot for the warden.â Marshall has since said it was âprobably the most ripped off photograph in the history of the world.â
But the picture remained relatively obscure until 1998 when Johnny was working with legendary producer Rick Rubin on his American Recordings albums. The second American album Unchained won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album. But could you hear Johnny Cashâs music on the country radio? Not so much. Rubin called country radio a âtrendy scene,â and decided to fire a shot right at Music Row. Rubin dug deep and pulled out $20,000 to take a full page ad out in Billboard Magazine. The ad featured the famous Cash bird flipping, and the caption: âAmerican Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.â (read more on the middle finger photo)
Travis Tritt was seen as the no frills, Southern rock representative for the now legendary “Class of ’89″ contingent of breakout stars in country music; a class that also included Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Garth Brooks. While his sound leaned heavy on electric guitar and he coined himself as a “No Hat” act early on along with long-time friend Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt also remained in the good graces of many of the greats that in some respects got shoved aside by the Class of ’89, including Waylon Jennings.
Tritt’s undeniable authenticity and straight shooting approach once had Waylon saying about him, “Travis is about my favorite new singer. What a talent, and a writer. He hones his songs, cares about them, and he knows how to work that rock-and-roll hoofbeat so it turns into a stampede. For me, he’s a cross between Hank Williams and Ray Charles…”
In some respects, time has forgotten just how big, and just how true Travis Tritt was back in the 90′s, and that is the crux of a recent Peter Cooper-penned feature on Tritt for The Tennessean. Tritt is recording a “Travis Tritt & Friends Live Acoustic” DVD during the next couple of nights at the Franklin Theater in Nashville’s famous suburb, and the stripped-down approach is a chance for Tritt to showcase his skills as a songwriter and picker, not just a full-tilt country rocker; something that Tritt is better at than some may assume (see below), and something some of Tritt’s country music contemporaries would not be able to pull off.
Tritt told Peter Cooper that artists theses days are being “stifled” by the business of country music that thinks it knows what’s right for artists. But according to Tritt, that’s not always the case.
Thereâs a mentality in the country music world of Nashville that says, “You donât know anything, and we know how to do this.” Itâs “We know whatâs best for you: You get to the microphone, sing what we tell you to sing, play what we tell you to play, and youâll be fine.” That scares people away from branching out and doing things that creatively are out of the box.
The music business establishment does not have a crystal ball. They do not know everything that they tell you they know. Iâd say to any of the new people coming out, âFind the courage to step out and try it your way.â Otherwise, what we get is a cookie-cutter mentality that isnât good for artists who are having to portray themselves as something they arenât, or that are capable of doing so much more but are being stifled.
Willie Nelson is in many ways a microcosm of the American experience. He grew up during The Depression, had a rough and tumble youth, battled through familial and financial problems for years, struck it rich, and reformed himself from his violent past to become one of the world’s most well-known and greatest pacifists and advocates for the poor and social justice. Lots of wisdom can be gleaned about life from simply studying the life of Willie Nelson . And ultimately, he is undoubtedly one hell of a badass.
1. Surviving a Plane Crash
As told by Willie Nelson’s friend, professional golfer Larry Trader:
“Willie was flying in to the landing strip near Happy Shahan’s Western town that they used for the Alamo movie set. Happy is watching the plane coming in, knowing Willie is on it. The plane hits a big chughole in the strip and flips over on its side and crashes. Happy likes news and publicity, you know, so first thing he does is pick up the phone and call the radio stations, the TV, the newspapers. Happy says, ‘Willie Nelson’s plane just crashed. Y’all better hurry.’
“He jumped in a Jeep and drove out to the crash to pick up the remains. And here comes Willie and his pilot, limping up the road. The media people were arriving by then. They started firing questions at Willie. How did he survive? Was he dying? Was he even hurt? Willie smiles and says, ‘Why, this was a perfect landing. I walked away from it, didn’t I?’”
2. Recording Red Headed Stranger for $4,000
That’s right. Arguably the greatest, most influential album in the history of country music was recorded on a shoestring budget at the renegade and recently-opened Autumn Sound Studios in the Dallas suburb of Garland in January 1975. Autumn Sound engineer Phil York was trying to promote the new studio, knew Willie through harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and offered Willie a free day of recording. With complete creative control over the album as part of his new contract with Columbia Records, Willie set out to record a stripped-down conceptualized record that was like nothing the overproducing bean counters on Music Row had ever heard. Willie’s version of “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” became Willie’s first #1, and the album remains many critic’s pick for the best country record ever. Eat that Music Row.
3. Gun Battle at the Birmingham Coliseum
After playing a concert in Birmingham, Alabama in the late 70â˛s, Willie and the band found themselves in the middle of a gun battle in a six-story parking garage as they were unloading gear from the stage. Though the story involves Willie getting involved in the fracas with his own weaponry, it also illustrates Willieâs unique disposition as a peacemaker.
âAll of a sudden we hear âKaboom! Kaboom!ââ Willieâs long-time stage manager âPoodieâ Locke recalls. âItâs the sound of a .357 magnum going off in the parking garage. The echoes sound like howitzer shells exploding. Itâs kind of semi-dark, and this guy comes blowing through this parking deckâŚnow here comes this bitch with a fucking pistol. âKaboom!â Sheâs chasing this motherfucker. It sounds like a fucking war.â
At the time, Willie Nelson and most of his band and road crew carried pistols as a matter of habit. The scene became chaotic as the shooting happened right as the crowd from the show was filing out into the parking garage.
âPeople are piling out of the show and they start scattering,â Poodie continues. âHere come the cops from every direction. Theyâre flying out of their cars, hitting the parking deck, spread-eagling the whole crowdââOn the deck, motherfuckers!ââbecause the cops donât know who is shooting at whoâŚAll these cops are squatting down in the doorjambs, turning people over, frisking them, aiming guns at everybody, just waiting for the next shot to be fired.â
âAnd here comes Willie. He walks off the bus wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes, and heâs got two huge Colt .45 revolvers stuck in his waist. The barrels are so long they stick out the bottom of his cutoffs. Two shining motherfucking pistols in plain sight of a bunch of cops nervous as shit. Willie just walks over and says, âWhatâs the trouble?â Well heâs got some kind of aura to him that just cools everything out. The cops put up their guns, the people climb off the concrete, and pretty soon Willie is signing autographs.â
Along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson founded the annual benefit concert in 1985 to help raise money for struggling farmers that has since become an American institution. Before a crowd of 80,000, 52 performers at the original Farm Aid raised $9 million for American farmers. Then Willie went to Capitol Hill with a group of struggling farmers to petition the government for aid. The end result was the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 that helped many American farmers avoid foreclosure.
5. Bailing Dennis Hopper Out Of Jail in Taos, NM
Dennis was a part-time resident of the small northern New Mexico town of Taos. Back in the mid 70â˛s it was a hangout for country music types and Hollywood misfits like Hopper. It was also the scene of one of the most crazy country music stories involving Willie, Hopper, and of all people, golf pro Larry Trader.
âIn Taos I had gotten real drunk and proceeded to win a lot of acid in a poker game, so I swallowed the acid and saw weird dangerous shit going on, and I pulled my pistol out of my boot and shot up the plaza. I was ranting and raving in the jail, people were out to get me, man, and here came the sheriff saying Willie Nelson had come and paid my bill and was waiting outside. I was free to go with him.
âI freaked fucking out. Willie Nelson? Come on, man, who do you think youâre kidding? Youâre gonna lure me out and yell jailbreak and blow my ass away! But I thought, hey, be cool, you are after all hallucinating all this. So I walked out of jail and got into Willieâs Mercedes with him and his wife Connie and his golf pro Larry Trader. We drove across the desert towards Las Vegas. Willie and Trader and I nearly drove Connie crazy with our laughing and shouting.”
6. Taking the Rap for Pot Bust in Texas
When Willie Nelson’s Honeysuckle Rose III was searched at the border patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas in November of 2010 and agents found 6 ounces of marijuana, anyone could have copped to the stash, or Willie could have pulled a “Do you know who I am ?!?” moment. But instead he offered his wrists to authorities, knowing that his arrest would prove the futility of the criminalization of marijuana that he’d been advocating against for many years.
Willie was booked into custody, a mug shot was taken, and he was later released on $2,500 bond. Eventually a plea deal was reached with prosecutors, and Willie paid a fine and spent 30 days on probation.
7. Dripping Springs Reunion and the 4th of July Picnics
Even though the events have many times been an annual financial bloodbath, Willie’s commitment to them has been steadfast, and they have become a Texas and American institution. It started with the Dripping Springs reunion in 1973, with the idea of putting on a “hillbilly Woodstock.” The Dripping Springs reunion featured Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Charlie Rich, Dottie West, Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, right beside Willie, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. Over the years the picnics have gone on to feature artists forgotten by Nashville and up-and-comers right beside big name talent. And because more times than not they have been losing propositions financially, it’s been Willie’s commitment that has kept them going.
8. Getting Lost in Baton Rouge
As told by Willie’s manager Mark Rothbaum
“Willie and I were at a hotel in Baton Rouge on the evening of a concert. We were on the twenty-third floor, and we could see the coliseum in a straight line from our windows. Looked like it was just right over there. So we decided we would run to the concert. Willie and I took off running through Baton Rouge after dark. We ran and kept on running through the neighborhoods, and we still weren’t arriving at the concert. After we had run ten miles, we decided we were totally lost. The gig was starting, and we had no idea where we were.
“Willie said, ‘I’ll just go up to that house and knock on the door and ask for help.’ I said, ‘You can’t knock on some stranger’s door.’
“He said, ‘I ain’t a stranger. I’m Willie Nelson.’”
9. “Shotgun Willie” & The Great Ridgetop Shootout
It was in the aftermath of an incident that would later be remembered as the âGreat Ridgetop Shootoutâ that Willie Nelson got the nickname âShotgun Willie.â Ridgetop was the house Willie lived in just outside of Nashville in the late 60â˛s. When it burned down in 1970, it stimulated Willieâs move back to Texas. In 1969, Willie and his first wife Martha separated, and his second wife Shirley moved into Ridgetop. Willie and Martha had three children, and right before Christmas in 1969, Willieâs youngest daughter Susie told Willie that his oldest daughter Lana was being physically assaulted by her husband Steve Warren.
âI ran for my truck and drove to the place where Steve and Lana lived and slapped Steve around,â Willie recalls. âHe really pissed me off. I told him if he ever laid a hand on Lana again, I would come back and drown his ass. No sooner did I get back to Ridgetop than here came Steve in his car, shooting at the house with a .22 rifle. I was standing in the door of the barn and a bullet tore up the wood two feet from my head. I grabbed an M-1 rifle and shot at Steveâs car. Steve made one pass and took off.â
But this wasnât where the incident ended. Willie drove back to Steve and Lanaâs to confront Steve again, but he was gone and had kidnapped their young son Nelson Ray. Lana also told Willie that Steve was looking to âget rid of him (Willie) as his top priority.â So what did Willie do? He drove back to Ridgetop and waited for him.
âThinking Steve would come to Ridgetop to pick me off about dusk, I hid in the truck so he couldnât tell if I was home. We laid a trap for him. I had my M-1 and a shotgun. He drove by the house, and I ran out the garage door. Steve saw me and took off. Thatâs when I shot his car and shot out his tire. Steve called the cops on me. Instead of explaining the whole damn mess, the beatings and the semi-kidnapping and shooting and all, I told the officers he must have run over the bullet. The police didnât want to get involved in hillbilly family fights. They wrote down what I told them on their report and took off.â
10. Building His Own Town
It’s called Luck, TX, and it was originally constructed as part of the set of the movie The Red Headed Stranger released in 1986 as a companion to Willie’s album of the same name. The town was originally called Willieville, and was constructed to be a replica of Driscoll, Montana. It sits across the street from Willie’s golf course about 30 miles outside of Austin. The remarkable thing about Luck is it’s not just a Hollywood facade, but a collection of real buildings that despite their purposefully rustic condition, are generally solid structures that could constitute a real old-time town, with a church, opera house, and various other buildings. And the town is still used upon occasion for movies, video shoots, and special events including an annual music showcase around South by Southwest.
BONUS 11. Receiving a 5th Degree Black Belt
You may not see Willie step into the octagon anytime soon, but apparently heâs been training for 20 years in the art of Gong Kwon Yu Sulâa modern Korean martial arts system similar to Tae Kwon Do that âemphasizes the application of striking, locking and throwing techniques in practical, free-flowing fighting situations, rather than static situations.â Willie has been training in the art so long he was awarded his 5th degree black belt in the discipline on April 28th in Austinâthe day before his 81st birthday. Grand Master Sam Um of Austin did the honors at his Master Martial Arts studio as part of a promotional event.
Willie Nelson has been studying martial arts most of his life, starting in Nashville when he was a burgeoning songwriter. âI got into some martial arts and kung fu,â Willie told Menâs Health Magazine last year. âI liked it. We used to offer kung fu lessons to the kids in town. Itâs good for you.â Apparently Willie trains on his famous tour bus The Honeysuckle Rose while on tour to pass the time and to stay healthy.
And then of course, there was that time he smoked pot on top of The White House…but that’s another story.
Quotes taken from the autobiography Willie, by Willie Nelson with Bud Shrake.
This is one of the questions that has plagued the second half of my 2013, as devotees of the shadowy, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter pursue me, knowing what a sucker I am for narrative-based songwriting told through a thematic album. And that’s just what The White Buffalo, aka Jake Smith delivers in his latest record Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways released in September.
But how would you know about him unless you have your nose buried deep in the soundtrack credits for Sons of Anarchy where he’s appeared several times, or were aware of his similar inclusion on the recent soundtrack for The Lone Ranger movie? The White Buffalo is about as independent as the enigmatic beast that lends to his pseudonym. Lots of artists would love to boast how they defy genre, but few can pull off the feat, borrowing from scattered influences instead of truly forging their own path like The White Buffalo does. He’s certainly roots, he’s somewhat country, but he’s 100% his own animal standing out from the herd.
Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways is a concept album, and this is a fact Jake Smith is happy to share with his audience, along with a more in-depth explanation of the narrative, instead of letting you stumble into that truth like some artists find sport in doing. It follows the characters Jolene and Joe, their falling in love, the struggles of life that separate them in both body and spirit, and the sinister things this separation and life does to a man who struggles between sin and redemption.
Unlike some concept albums whose songs are linked through contiguous interludes or by referring back to certain global riffs or melodies, the songs of Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways are fairly autonomous, especially at the beginning. Near the end, you being to latch on to some sonic similarities, but especially through the first few songs of the album, this record is not what you would call seamless. The albums starts of very sweet with “Shall We Go On” and “The Getaway,” but then turns unabashedly belligerent in the song “When I’m Gone” that’s like a dirty-mouthed underground country anthem.
Jake Smith is not afraid to shift gears and catch you off guard at any time in the album, yet the story remains linear throughout. One benefit to the autonomy the songs contain despite the concept is there’s quite a few songs on this album that can reside excellent on their own, including virtually every full track on the second half of the album.
Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways is a creeper, especially if you don’t go into it knowing it is conceptualized. You recognize immediately there’s something cool here, but you may not be sure exactly what is going on, or what the overall appeal might be. Then after a few listens, despite the weight and artistry of the material, you begin to find the songs downright infectious. Nasty, viral grooves and hooks reveal themselves embedded in the content without jeopardizing the overall narrative that is the web holding the album together. The wit of the lyrics doesn’t wear off, it becomes enhanced as you to pick up on its subtleties, as the message of the story begins to reveal itself and you begin to identify and find empathy with the characters more and more.
By nature a concept album is harder to pull off because as an artist you must be beholden to the narrative instead of following your heart towards wherever inspiration grips you. But once the story finds its own path, the difficulty can be capturing it in the recorded format while the feelings are fresh, and doing justice to the story in the limiting confines of an audio record. Along on this journey with The White Buffalo are Jake Smith’s rhythm section Matt Lynot on drums, and Tommy Andrews on bass. The trio also calls on steel guitar, fiddle, cello, and keyboards in places to enhance the music that reaches towards Townes and Guy Clark in its lyrical depth, while referring to Tom Waits and Waylon Jennings sonically.
Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways is as ambitious as it is accomplishing, and should be considered in the same breath as some of the best albums of 2013.
Two guns up.
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Some of the new “Outlaws” in country music will have you believe that getting some mud on their tires or drinking a little too much is tantamount to years of paying dues and sewing your true Outlaw oats like the original Outlaws did. So here’s ten reasons why today’s “Outlaws” will never live up to the legacy of one of the biggest country music Outlaws, Waylon Waymore Watashin By God Hoss Tecumseh Jennings.
1. Walking Off The Tom Snyder Show
In September of 1998, Waylon was scheduled to appear on the Late Late Show hosted by Tom Snyder. Going into the taping, Waylon was already a little bit sideways with the situation because he thought he deserved a full hour slot, but instead the show’s producers had him share the show with Dr. Laura. When Dr. Laura’s segment began to eat into Waylon’s time even more, he walked off the set, leaving Tom Snyder hanging.
2. Walking Out On Chet Atkins – The $25,000 Piss.
It was early 1972, and Waylon Jennings wanted control of his music. He hired a New York lawyer named Neil Reshen—the same lawyer that helped Willie Nelson get out of his RCA contract—to renegotiate his with the Music Row giant.
“It was down to a $25,000 sum, and they we’re not going to give it to me. We were sitting there, not a word spoken, and the silence got unbearable. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore. ‘Chet,’ I said, reaching over to a bowl on his desk, ‘where’d you get these peanuts?’ Neil glared at me. ‘Shut up, Waylon.’
You could hear a clock tick in the room. It got even quieter. Minutes passed. I rose up, never said a word, walked out. I went to the bathroom to take a leak. When I came back, Neil greeted me in the hall. ‘You’re a fuckin’ genius,’ he said.
‘Walking out like that. That sewed it up. That was a $25,000 piss,’ said Neil. ‘They asked me where you went and I told them I didn’t know. ‘Waylon’s mad, I’m sure. He’s crazy. He’s liable to do anything.’ ‘Will he be back?’ they wanted to know, and I shrugged. ‘I guess he’s gone, so we may as well call this to a close.’ And that when they gave us the money.”
3. Walking Out of the 1970 CMA Awards
“It was Kris Kristofferson’s night; he was a shoo-in for several categories. I had been scheduled to perform ‘Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.’ They said they were strapped for time, and they wanted me to cut the song to one verse and chorus. I said, ‘Why don’t I just dance across the stage and grin? Maybe do one line. That’ll give you a lot of time.’ They told me to not get smart. Either I did it or I got out. They said, ‘We don’t need you.’ I decided that was true, and I left.”
4. TheÂ 1975 CMA Awards
“Now they needed me again, because I was up for Best Male Vocalist, Song of the Year (‘I’m A Ramblin’ Man’), Album of the Year, and Entertainer of the Year. As I walked in with Jessi [Colter], scratching at my tuxedo, her telling me I should have hit them, Neil [Reshen] came over to me. ‘You won Male Vocalist,’ he whispered. ‘Jessi didn’t win anything.’ So much for secrecy. If nobody’s supposed to know the awards before they opened the envelope, how did word get around? My heart went out to Jessi, and though my first instinct was to get the hell gone, I thought that maybe by staying I could raise some of the larger problems that faced country music, such as its closed-mindedness and suspicion of change.
“I tried to be nice in my acceptance speech, thanking everybody for their support, though I knew that block voting and mass trading between the big companies—we’ll give you two hundred votes for your artist if you give your four hundred votes to our writer—probably had more to do with it than anything else.”
Waylon’s 1975 Male Vocalist Certificate (note Waylon’s embellishment):
5. Singing with Big Bird on Sesame Street
Because real Outlaws have the balls to show their gentler side.
6. Playing “Ironhead Haynes” on Married With Children
7. Corrupting Clint Black
“Joe Galante from RCA once called me and said, ‘Clint Black really likes you. Can we go to lunch and you can tell him some old Waylon and Willie stories?’ We met up with his manager, Bill Ham, and I started recounting. I told him of all the phones I used to destroy, dialing a number, putting it to my ear, and walking off. He listened to tales of Hillbilly Central and Dripping Springs, and Joe would keep encouraging me, saying, ‘Tell this story, Waylon, tell that one.’”
“After I got through talking, Clint pushed back from the table. ‘I can let you know one thing I’ve gotta do,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to get rid of this goody-two-shoes reputation I’ve got.’ Both Bill and Joe looked at him in horror. ‘No, no! We just wanted you to hear the stories!’”
8. Starting Up A Motorcycle in a Hotel Room At Midnight
For Waylon’s birthday in 1979, former Buddy Holly Cricket Joe B. Mauldin tracked down a vintage 1958 Ariel Cyclone motorcycle that used to belong to Buddy Holly, and put it inside of Waylon’s hotel room as a surprise.
“I walked into my hotel room after the show and saw it sitting there. What else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldn’t mind.”
9. Meeting Billy Ray Cyrus
“You never do know where the stones you throw will land. One time, I was at an awards show, and I heard a voice behind me saying, ‘Mr. Jennings, you’re like a god to me.’ I turned around and it was Billy Ray Cyrus, offering his hand for me to shake. All I could think of was, if I’m your god, what does your devil look like?”
10. Writing and Recording “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
All quotes from Waylon – An Autobiography.
Wayne Mills was like that warrior that refuses to come off of the mountain. With defeat eminent and inevitable, he would rather raise his fists in the air and rage against the dying of the light then let it overtake him sitting down or sulking. He was like that old honky tonk that refuses to sell as strip malls, condo complexes, and highrises get built up all around it; the one lone holdout swearing off the money that selling out would impart on the principle that everything real, everything worth cherishing is disappearing, and with it, the ties to who we are as people, and the culture that we come from.
In the culture war, Wayne was that painted up, passionate warrior that rallies the troops with his sword held high, stern faced and stubborn as the waves of change sweep over and ultimately destroy all of what once was; victims of progress and the cult of priority.I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down In body, mind, and spirit, under the table, or under the ground The fading echos of a barroom band might be the only sound I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down Â
These are the words that form the chorus of the title track, and the theme of Wayne’s 2010 album with The Wayne Mills Band called The Last Honky Tonk. Both thematically and sonically, the album and Wayne are like a big stick in the mud and a finger in the eye of the forces severing country’s roots, drawing heavy from the Waylon Jennings-inspired half beat and electric sound, then floating towards the Willie Nelson waltz and acoustic rhythms, and by the end of the album, touching on and paying homage to most of the country music textures that are seen today by Music Row’s money-driven perspective as outmoded.
The second song on the album,”One Of These Days,” is about losing friends too early, reminiscing back on their lives, and using it as a reflection on his own. “My friends lost their lives, but I remember their dreams,” is what Wayne says leading into the the first chorus that talks about the promises we rarely keep to ourselves.
The infectious hook and groove of “Same Old Blues” makes it one of the most fun tracks on the album, while “It’s Just Not My Style” speaks to the personality of Wayne to just do things his way, and lead by example. “Old Willie Nelson Song” and “Friendly Companion” pay homage to Wayne’s musical heroes, but not in the pandering, name-dropping manner of many modern day country songs, but in the context of a heartfelt story. Then “The Truce” duet with Presley Tucker draws inspiration from the famously tumultuous relationship between Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
“Don’t Bring It Around” speaks to the sobriety many Outlaws attempt to embrace later in life, that is regularly hindered by the insistence of the culture and people that surround them, while the epic “Homeward Bound” is about coming come, and coming to peace, putting a period on an album that when listening to in the midst of the recent news of Wayne’s passing feels hauntingly foreboding and poignant.
True country music artists always seem to hold on to life much more precariously than the rest of us, and that vulnerability, and the perspective afforded by walking that line between the dead and the living is what gives them the insight to speak about such things the rest of us struggle to put into words. Wayne Mills was not the most well-known, nor the most prolific of artists. But he was one of the most pure and honest of the breed, unwavering in his country music principles, evidenced by The Last Honky Tonk, and his music that will live on well beyond his passing.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Tompall Glaser, who passed away in August, is considered one of the original country music Outlaws, and was one of the most influential men in Nashville in the mid 70′s both as an artist and studio owner. His renegade Nashville studio affectionately known as Hillbilly Central was a home to artists such as Waylon Jennings, Kinky Friedman, John Hartford, and many more, and was the heart of the country music Outlaw revolution of the mid 70′s. But little is known about this man that brought Music Row to its knees and helped usher in a new era of creative control and sonic innovation for country music.
That’s all about to change on December 1st when the 350-page biography The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw is released. Written by Tompall’s nephew Kevin L. Glaser, the book includes never-before known information about Tompall, provides historical information about Nashville, and gives a glimpse of what country music was like during the 1960s up to the 1990s. It also includes lengthy interviews with folks like “Cowboy” Jack Clement (who also recently passed away), President & CEO of BMI Del Bryant, Kinky Friedman, Jimmy Buffett (who recorded his 1973 album A White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean at Glaser Studios), Jimmy Bowen, Billy Swan, Marshall Chapman, and more.
“Research, interviews and spending time talking with Tompall began more than two and a half years ago, at the end of April, 2011.” explains Kevin Glaser. “I initially had simply wanted to write a tribute about a man that I knew mainly as my uncle. But when I began talking to Tompall, and to others who interacted with him during his music career, the book expanded considerably. I really had no idea how many things Tompall had accomplished in his life and was surprised at the impact that he had on so many people in country music during the 1960âs through the 1980s and beyond.”
“I am genuinely excited that the book is finally ready for release,” continues Glaser. “Publishing this book gives me a sense of great accomplishment, but more so, it gives Tompall the recognition he is due for his lifeâs work. This is an informative, interesting and unique story, and, even though I am Tompallâs nephew, it is told from a balanced perspective. My book is not the story of a perfect person, but it is the story of a remarkable person.”
The 6″ x 9″ hardcover book will have a cover price of $29.95, with plans for an e-book and audio book in 2014. More information about The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw.
So Eric Church, you think that genres are dead? Well then why don’t you turn in your Country Music Association Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music award for Best New Solo Vocalist from 2011, and your Academy of Country Music award for Vocal Event of the Year that you won with your country-rapping douche buddies Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan as you march your aviators-wearing ass straight out of the non-existent country genre that has made you millions upon millions of fucking dollars and see if the rock world will embrace your “Outsiders” Bon Jovi rehash and bestow awards, coast to coast radio play, and industry support to your ungrateful, arrogant ass.
You’re right Eric, genres are dead, and it’s because assholes like you have killed them by making murky, soulless, rootless pap to appeal to the wide masses while the roots of music wither, and there’s no better evidence of that than your latest rock opera being rammed down the throats of what are supposed to be country consumers, throwing the homogenization of the American culture into hyper drive so that you can hold on to your mainstream relevancy and make even more money stained with the blood of what country music once was.
If you want to play rock music because you think that country is too restrictive, then by all means Eric, do your worst. Play the music you want. But then stay the hell off of country radio, don’t perform at the country awards shows, and forfeit your trophies to the runners up if the country genre is meaningless to you or meaningless in general. Who do you think laid the groundwork for people like you to have untold success? Did you not notice the names as you were trouncing on the way to the top? You can’t use the legacy of country music to make it to the top of the hill, and then disregard it once you’re there.
Eric Church is a hypocrite ladies and gentlemen. From saying he’d never call himself an Outlaw while simultaneously selling Outlaw merch, to now saying genres are dead while shamelessly reaping the rewards of one. Remember the Eric Church song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill”? Remember the lines “I don’t think Waylon done it that way. And if he was here he’d say Hoss, neither did Hank,” and “You sing about Johnny Cash. The man in black would’ve whipped your ass”? What would Hank, Hoss, and Cash have to say to someone claiming the genre they worked their entire lives in and shed their blood for didn’t matter? I know what they’d say. “Eric who?”
And the sad part is yes, when talking about the very top of mainstream country males, Eric Church outpaces his peers as far as quality and innovation, his latest “The Outsiders” single rocketing up the charts notwithstanding. But that may say just as much about the lack of quality in his peers as it says about Eric. It’s his damn attitude, the arrogance bordering on downright hubris, and the uncaring if he completely tears down the country genre, or really anything on his way to the top as long as he gets his.
The death of genres in mainstream music means the death of contrast, and this is something that shouldn’t be regarded flippantly, something that shouldn’t be celebrated just because it secures the financial success of mono-genre artists like Eric Church for the future. It means that music will have that much less color and diversity moving forward and be much more about commercial success than making an artistic mark.
And that’s a sad commentary.
Billy Joe Shaver is getting ready to record and release his first studio album in 7 years, according to the 74-year-old Outlaw country songwriter and performer. Shaver released a couple of live albums last year, Live At Billy Bob’s Texas and the Live from Austin, TX: Austin City Limits – August 14, 1984, but this will be the first album of new material since his 2007 predominantly Christian album, Everybody’s Brother.
“Iâm doing my first studio album in seven or eight years and Iâll be doing that I think December first, second or something like that,” Shaver told the Fort Stockton Pioneer ahead of a show in Alpine, TX.Â “Hopefully getting it out in a couple of months. Itâs all new too and differentâŚThere are some political things. The songs are so different then whatâs on the radio now. Itâs either going to change things around or get kicked out. One or the other. Iâm hoping that this here will, as a matter of fact I know it will, it’ll kick ass…it’s going to be a good one.”
Shaver, who got his big break in country music when Waylon Jennings’ breakout album Honky Tonk Heroes included all but one Shaver-written song, also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little sabre rattling about the current state of country music.
“I feel like that Iâm still doing the same thing I always did, it just got lost in the shuffle because all this new stuff came in. Thereâs a lot of money behind these peopleâŚItâs just people trying to make money, thatâs all it is and I canât begrudge anybody for trying to make money. We’re all trying to make a living and do the best we can.Â I feel that the art part of it just went out the window…but every once in awhile you will hear a good song. I canât say that itâs all bad, itâs not. Itâs just most of itâs bad…It’s kind of gotten way out of hand right now I think, but the solid foundation is still there.”
Billy Joe Shaver has had a tumultuous last 7 years. After coming out of a period where his wife, his son and guitar player Eddy, and his mother all passed away in a span of 2 years, Shaver battled a bad shoulder injury, and charges stemming from a shooting at the Papa Joe’s bar near Waco in 2007 that resulted in an assault trial against the songwriter, and a song chronicling the event by Dale Watson called “Where Do You Want It?” Shaver was eventually acquitted when it was found he acted in self-defense, with help from character witnesses Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall.
Back in March, country music Outlaw David Allan Coe was in a horrific accident where his black Suburban was broadsided by a semi truck in Ocala, Fl. Coe suffered cracked ribs and bruised kidneys in the accident, but was able to recover to perform again.
In the aftermath of the accident, there was a shakeup in David Allan Coe’s band and inner circle. As Saving Country Music reported after attending David Allan Coe’s first show back as part of Willie Nelson’s 40th Annual 4th of July picnic, David was quoted as saying, “…everybody quit me, except my wife. Sheâs the only one that didnât quit. My road manager of 35 years, he quit me. My band quit me. This is a brand new band, this is a brand new me.â
On November 8th, David Allan Coe’s son, Tyler Mahan Coe, who played guitar for his father, posted an in-depth letter describing his side of the story, saying in part, “The implication is that every person in his life, except his wife, abandoned him after his recent auto accident. Certainly, it doesn’t make sense to me that everyÂ person in someone’s life would take a hike because that person had a little accident. Must be something else going on there.” In short, Tyler blames David Allan Coe’s wife Kimberly for manipulating his father, leading to him and others being forced out of his father’s music business. Tyler also spelled out and addressed numerous concerns and grievances he and many David Allan Coe fans have had about his father’s live performances in recent years.
David Allan Coe’s accident, the subsequent fallout, and Tyler Coe’s letter have stimulated a discussion about David Allan Coe, his ethics and character, his contributions to the music world, and have many fans finally speaking out about a lackluster live show that they we’re unwilling to speak about previously out of respect for the performer.
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Look, this is the deal with David Allan Coe. David Allan Coe is a piece of garbage human being. As Al Goldstein once said straight to David’s face enlisting a cackle from David, “You’re a fucking degenerate.” He’s a sexist, racist, scary, weird, train wreck of a man; one of these people we all knew growing up in school or in the neighborhood that was always in someone’s face and that could twist off at any moment.
As Waylon Jennings once pointed out, David Allan Coe will stab you in the back and then ride off your name like he’s your best friend. He wears a stupid, waist-length golden-haired wig on stage as if he’s fooling anyone. He bashes anybody and everybody for getting in his way, abandoning him, or otherwise keeping him down, when he is clearly an arrogant, disrespectful, down-talking asshole who has little regard for anybody but himself, has bashed his Outlaw contemporaries while praising people like Kid Rock and Toby Keith, and once bragged about standing on top of the desk of a record executive, dropping his pants, and ordering him to perform oral sex on him.
At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, David Allan Coe is an American treasure, and a country music legend. Hank Williams Jr. may have sung about being a “Dinosaur,” but David Allan Coe truly is one. In a world where we’re all so whipped and so trained to not speak our minds, or to say what we think, and respect authority that is many times much more immoral, unfair, and corrupt than we could ever be, an individual like David Allan Coe is a breath of fresh air, and in a strange way, an inspiration in the way he is blatantly obvious about who he is, what he wants, and what he believes.
Anyone who wants to diminish David Allan Coe’s importance to country music, whether it’s because he’s put out some bad songs, bad albums, has a bad live show, or because he’s is a bad person, isn’t paying attention to the full breadth of his contributions, including some of the most indelible, important, and influential works of the country music canon. Forget “Longhaired Redneck,” go listen to “Jody Like A Melody” or “River” and then tell me David Allan Coe has nothing to offer.
And to simply call him “sexist” or “racist” really doesn’t do justice to the complex and tragic history of David Allan Coe’s life and upbringing, or the true nature of his opinions. David Allan Coe is one of the truest products and examples of the American experience because there is no bullshit from him, however ugly it is to behold. His attitudes and actions are a reflection our own sins and flaws as an American society, personified in a man who has zero respect for phony custom, or plastic courtesy. At the same time, it’s embarrassing that some choose to use him as their phony idol or icon for racist or sexist platitudes or principles, only reveling in the bad parts about David Allan Coe, and missing the complete panorama of his message and musical contributions.
I do not know Tyler Mahan Coe personally, though I have seen him perform with his father before. Having read many things he’s written over the years, including his latest letter clearing the air about what happen with his father, Tyler comes across as an intelligent and thoughtful individual, and I tend to take what he says as being the truth, and find his honesty and candor refreshing. Tyler Coe is right. Seeing David Allan Coe on any given night can be an exercise in disappointment, from his poor stage presence to his stupid vocal effects. But there is nothing that I read in Tyler’s letter, or anything else that gives me reason to respect David Allan Coe any less. The grim reality with any performer is that as time goes on, they will lose grip with their talent and abilities, especially when they live the type of self-destructive life fans expect, if not demand from certain artists.
When I saw David Allan Coe perform this summer at Willie Nelson’s 40th Annual 4th of July picnic, it was the most God awful performance of “country” music I had ever seen in my life. His band setup included two keyboards flanking him on the left and right, some weird percussionist guy, and struck the vibe of an underfunded and unrehearsed amateur church band that had set up in the food court of a mini mall in some forgotten region of scary, small-town USA preaching to inbreeds and introverts circa 1987.Â At the same time, I was super glad to be there to catch it, and to be able to see David Allan Coe still alive and performing after his accident.
Why? Because when David Allan Coe is gone forever, what he symbolizes and embodies will be gone forever too. And country music, and the rest of the world, will be a lot less of a colorful place. Because whether you like him, respect him, or hate him, there will never be another person or performer in country music or the American culture like David Allan Coe.
Yeah, I remember the first time I heard marijuana referenced in a song and thought it was cool. It was a song by the New Riders of the Purple Sage called “Henry” from their 1971 self-titled album. More of a smuggling song than a drug song, the story and the suspense of the song is what made it intriguing, with the marijuana more of just a backdrop. This inspired me to try and discover similar songs which led me to the Arlo Guthrie smuggler’s song “Coming Into Los Angeles.”
Gram Parsons somewhat challenged the stuffiness of the country establishment when he sported a Nudie suit with marijuana leaves embroidered on it in the late 60′s, but at the time he was considered more of a product of the rock world. And then of course there’s Kris Kristofferson’s iconic “Sunday Morning Coming Down” whose somewhat veiled reference to marijuana is given credit for stretching lyrical boundaries in country music on its way to being named Song of the Year by the CMA in 1970.
But 2013 very well may go down as the year when referencing marijuana and other drugs in your songs is no longer cool as much as it is conformist—a lyrical hook, a well-recognized buzz word made for marketing an artist or song just as much as anything else. When a former Disney star like Miley Cyrus is out there talking about “Dancing with ‘Molly’” and “Trying to get a line in the bathroom,” and the 80-year-old Willie Nelson is singing a duet with the 42-year-old Snoop Dogg called “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die,” there ceases to be either the generational gap, or the exclusivity of drug references in music to make them “cool.”
Where the current trend of mentioning cannabis in your country song seems to be cropping up is in the unlikely place of country music’s songwriting females. This dynamic and inspiring group of women who are regularly referenced as the last bastion of substance in country music’s mainstream seems to be the epicenter of country music’s marijuana bloom: Kacey Musgraves with the songs “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Blowin’ Smoke,” and “Follow Your Arrow.” Ashley Monroe with the song “Weed Instead of Roses.” Brandy Clark and the song “Get High.” And The Pistol Annies with songs like “Takin’ Pills” and “Hush Hush.”
The differences between these song’s marijuana and drug references and the trends on the male side of country music to reference pickups, tailgates, ice cold beer, and dirt roads, are very subtle. Sure, many of the pot references come within the context of a more in-depth story. But just like pickup truck references, they’re used to grab the attention of demographics and sell music to listeners.
Just look at the graphics below taken from Amazon’s MP3 popularity ratings. For a marijuana song like Ashley Monroe’s “Weed Instead of Roses,” it positively dominates the popularity contest compared to her other songs. Same goes with Kacey Musgraves’ three most popular songs (though in fairness, “Blowin’ Smoke doesn’t reference pot directly). One might argue though that these songs are more popular because they are also the artist’s radio singles. But this speaks even deeper to the current marijuana trend. If you want to be a mainstream female songwriter and have the A&R folks pay attention to your music, you may want to include a song with marijuana references.
Ashley Monroe’s Tracks from the album Like A Rose:
Kacey Musgraves Tracks from the album Same Trailer, Different Park:
Just like with the country rap trend or the pickup truck trend, when a lyrical theme works, it almost becomes a requirement for mainstream artists. And just like the male tailgate songs that sound so cliche to distinguishing music listeners, marijuana references appeal to bored suburban types who listen to country music as a form of escapism.
Back in the 90′s marijuana references and imagery became popularized by big music acts like Cypress Hill, Pantera, Snoop Dogg, and Green Day. But then the trend became sort of passĂŠ amongst bands on the fringes of the mainstream when marijuana references began to work themselves into the content of Top 40 pop songs. It was no longer cool.
Country music was a late bloomer to the marijuana marketing trend because it’s traditionally conservative-leaning audience. Artists like Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels referenced pot in the 70′s and 80′s, but this was far from the mainstream. Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,” Hank Jr’s, “O.D’d in Denver,” take it a step further into the cocaine realm. But as modern mainstream country artists step into the marijuana and drug realm, independent and cutting-edge artists seem to step away. For example Hank Williams III started his career in country music with heavy marijuana imagery and references, but has veered away from it in recent years.
Women are not the only ones referencing marijuana in the current mainstream country market. Eric Church sells T-shirts with pot leaves on them and had a hit song in “Smoke A Little Smoke.” Luke Bryan’s mega-hit “That’s My Kind Of Night” says “I got that real good feel good stuff up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck.” Â
The political environment surrounding marijuana also plays into the pot music debate. The stigma around the drug has been significantly diluted by the passing of laws decriminalizing the plant, making it legal for medicinal purposes, or legalizing it in full which has happened in some states. Marijuana is a very commonly-used substance throughout American society, and as the stigma around the plant subsides, so does the potency of the references to it in popular culture.
There’s nothing naughty or cutting edge about a pot reference in a song anymore. It’s conformist. It’s marketing. It’s mainstream. Not all the time of course; sometimes it comes up naturally in the context of a song. But just like many so many other musical elements, marijuana and drug references have been co-oped by the mainstream, spoiled, and exploited.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open inÂ the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an eventÂ carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announcedÂ in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’sÂ hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter FamilyÂ
- Bobby Bare
- Chris GantryÂ
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi SmithÂ
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.Â
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey MorganÂ
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970â˛s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genreâsuch as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colterârecognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall ofÂ Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
Yes, Miley Cyrus. That sledge hammer-licking slut. Did you see her on the VMA’s with that foam finger? And then riding that big wrecking ball wearing nothing? Let’s all wag our fingers, shield the children from all the spectacle, position ourselves as self-righteous and above it all….and then watch her latest video 4 times in a row once the kiddos go to bed.
Is it shocking and disappointing that the girl who once was America’s biggest teen star and role model turned out so? Of course it is. Is it also painfully predictable? Most definitely. But Miley is almost so shocking and disappointing, our outrage goes without saying.
It may be just as disappointing that Miley forever ruined the cool factor of drug references in songs with her recent single “We Can’t Stop.” And though we all may want to act shocked at what little Hannah Montana has turned into, putting drug references in your songs is just about the most conformist thing an artist can possibly do in 2013—country music included.
Though Sinead O’Connor had some brilliant points in her primary open letter to Miley Cyrus, as we saw later with subsequent Sinead letters, brilliant points or not, Sinead could nearly match Miley blow for shave-headed blow when it came to the crazy department.
Somewhere within the numerous and ever-present melees that have surrounded what is right now the most popular and influential artist in American music is that Miley Cyrus is a woman, and artist, and a daughter. No, I have no desire to leave my take on the multiple threads of whether Miley is exploiting or empowering herself as a woman with her recent antics. Even broaching the subject just lends to Miley and her marketing team’s underlying goal, which is to keep her name in the headlines and her singles high on the charts.
What I found interesting is when her father Billy Ray Cyrus recently opened up to Arsenio Hall about his daughters recent antics, he said, “Miley is very smart. She’s thought this thing out in advance of where she was going and, again, going back to her heart and her roots of the music and doing it because that’s who she is. She grew up around the greats. Waylon Jennings, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash.“
Really? Miley Cyrus grew up on Waylon and Cash? Even regular CMT pop country pom pom waver Alison Bonaguro called foul on such a crazy assertion. After all, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings would never reference cocaine in their songs, would they? In Miley’s song “We Can’t Stop,” she says things like, “We run things, things don’t run we. We don’t take nothing from nobody,” and “It’s my mouth I can say what I want to.” Sure, the times change, and so does the nomenclature and context. But maybe there was a little more Waylon and Cash in there than we were willing to believe.
Miley hosted Saturday Night Live over the weekend, and while half the earth was waiting to see if the foam finger would re-appear, and the other half was manning the Miley Cyrus rehab watch, she tripped everyone up by coming out and performing two distinctly live, stripped down, heartfelt performances with no electronic accoutrements. Yes, Miley Cyrus can actually sing quite well; singing is supposed to be the point of all of this. Right at the apex of when the world was rooting against her to fail as washed up at 20-years-old with nothing but shock to create attention for herself and no substance or talent behind her music, she proved that somewhere deep inside her was a nugget of forte that was dramatically underestimated. Check mate.
At the end of the second song Miley performed on SNL—the drug-laced and defiant “We Can’t Stop,” accompanied only by acoustic guitars—Miley showed one brief moment of sincerity when the crowd erupted with applause. She was truly shocked and grateful, showing a wide, unguarded, bright-eyed smile that harkened back to her innocent Hannah Montana days—a character she ironically ceremoniously killed off during the same SNL episode. It still amazes me why stars don’t go to the stripped-down performance more often. It certainly gives them the ability to deliver a more memorable moment than some of the big stage productions.
Another performer who regularly calls on shock to draw attention is Marlyn Manson. In his take on Patti Smith’s 1978 song “Rock ‘n Roll Nigger,” he adds the line, “Cause I am the all-American antichrist. I was raised in America, and America hates me for what I am. I am your shit.”
As much as we may like to shame Miley Cyrus, or Billy Ray Cyrus for raising such a monster, or Disney for manufacturing such a pop monstrosity, the simple fact is Miley Cyrus is a product of who we are. She is a child of the American culture. For better or for worse. From her embarrassments to her virtues. She was raised on Waylon and Cash, by the guy who sang “Achy Breaky Heart,” starring in a show from Disney. It’s never smart to underestimate anyone—financially or artistically. At the time that Miley seemed to be unraveling right before our very eyes, she was the most in control. I wonder if Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash had similar moments in their careers?
Sometimes you can find wisdom and beauty in the strangest places.
One hard and fast rule I have is that I review EP’s or splits only in very exceptional cases. Well a collaboration between country music Outlaw legend Waylon Jennings and alt-country pioneers the Old 97′s recorded some 17 years ago but only unearthed recently would certainly qualify as very exceptional.
Originally cut in Nashville in 1996 and sitting on the shelf ever since, Old 97′s & Waylon Jennings is a remarkable little gem unearthed these many years later, offering a window into a time right before Waylon’s health began to fail him, and right as the Old 97′s were rising in the alt-country tide alongside bands like Wilco and Whiskeytown. Along for the ride and to flesh out the collection released on October 1st are four Old 97′s demos also from 1996, giving you six tracks total. The two primary tracks involving the Old 97′s and Waylon Jennings were first sold to a very lucky few on limited edition vinyl as part of Record Store Day in April. But now they are available in digital and CD form to everyone through Omnivore Records.
The collaboration came about after the Old 97′s played a radio convention in Atlanta in ’96. Waylon was sitting in the front row and as the band recalls, Jennings perked up and started clapping when they delivered the line, “It takes a worried man to sing a worried song,” in their tune “Big Brown Eyes”—a call back to The Carter Family. Waylon later raved about the band to The Austin Chronicle and on the advice of their label, the Old 97′s reached out to Waylon to see if he wanted to collaborate.
“He replied that heâd like to cut a couple of tracks in Nashville,” Rhett Miller recalled to Texas Monthly. “I think we were auditioning to do a full Waylon album where weâd be his band. After lunch, he cut the vocals for ‘The Other Shoe.’ He got to the second verse, where the cuckolded husband is under the bed and imagining the murders heâs about to commit. Thereâs a line, ‘Youâll try to find a doctor that will prescribe an elixir thatâll make everything better.’ He kept saying ‘excelsior.’ It got tense in the control room because heâd keep getting through the whole song and mess up that word. Eventually, I had an idea. I told him to just use the phrase âAnnie licks her.â He started laughing. ‘I like you, youâre sick,’ he told me. And he nailed it on the next take.”
Where it could be easy to over-hype this collaboration and get swept up in simply hearing new music from Waylon, Old 97′s & Waylon Jennings truly does deliver. “Iron Road,” written by Old 97′s bassist Murry Hammond is a cool piece of music because it fits within the Old 97′s alt-country sound of the time, but with Waylon singing instead of Old 97′s front man Rhett Miller. At the same time, the piece fits Waylon perfectly, and he sings it with a confidence as if he had written it on his own.
With “The Other Shoe,” the shoe goes on the other foot, with the Old 97′s doing their best to reside within Waylon’s sound, and pulling it off with confidence and ease. Once again you’re struck by how strong and confident Waylon’s voice is singing the song written by Rhett Miller. In fact near the end, Waylon hits a high note in a register I haven’t heard him touch this side of the 60′s.
Next comes demo takes of 4 Old 97′s songs, the first of which is “Visiting Hours” that also appears in a more fleshed-out version on their latest album The Grand Theatre Vol.2. Whether you’re an Old 97′s stalwart or someone who needs a primer on what the band is all about, these tracks rise beyond their humble production by showcasing the blinding poetic proficiency the Old 97′s have evidenced throughout their 20 year existence.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
If you need any more proof that corporate country music has become so milktoast that the backlash against its homogenized format and fashion plate stars has become an indelible and easily-identifiable element of American culture, then look no further than the recent blockbuster video game Grand Theft Auto 5 from Rockstar Games. Featured in the third-person, open world game that shattered industry sales records by earning $800 million in the first 24 hours and $1 billion in the first three days is a radio station called “Rebel Radio” that is described as playing classic Outlaw country that “reminds listeners that corporate country sucks.” The station’s tagline is “Because country has gone sissy.”
Rebel Radio is hosted by The Dancing Outlaw Jesco White, made famous from the Dancing Outlaw movie first shown on PBS, and his subsequent appearances in various documentaries, including most recently The Wild & Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. The soundtrack for Rebel Radio includes Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Hank Thompson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Hasil Adkins among others (see full playlist below).
Illustrating the great care for detail game makers go through these days, Rebel Radio has its own logo, and even has its own location in the game in the Grand Senora Desert in Blaine County on a hill near the Redwoods Lights Motorcross Track. 13 total minutes of Jesco White commentary are mixed in with the 11-song soundtrack to give players the feel of listening to a real radio station, and Jesco even makes an appearance in the game as a “hidden Easter Egg” doing his famous Outlaw tap dancing routine.
Grand Theft Auto 5′s use of radio stations speaks to the opening of new outlets for music as traditional radio continues to narrow formats in the face of consolidation at the hands of big corporations like Clear Channel and Cumulus. Big companies have been buying up stations all across the country, implementing and institutionalizing nationalized programming.Â Grand Theft Auto 5 boasts a total of 15 different radio stations players can tune into, with over 240 officially licensed songs making up the game’s entire soundtrack. The game is also the first in the series to solicit an original score.
Ivan Pavlovich, the Soundtrack Supervisor for Grand Theft Auto 5, points out that the music licensing for the game is the equivalent to 20 movie soundtracks—a tremendous investment for a video game. Other celebrity DJ’s for the game’s various channels include Bootsy Collins for an 80s funk station, Pam Grier hosting a soul station, and Kenny Loggins for the classic rock station. The soundtrack is also available for sale in multiple volumes.
Grand Theft Auto 5′s Rebel Radio Playlist:
- Ozark Mountain Daredevils – If You Wanna Get To Heaven (1973)
- HankÂ Thompson – I Don’t Hurt Anymore (1954)
- Johnny Paycheck – It Won’t Be Long (And I’ll Be Hating You) (1968)
- Johnny Cash – General Lee (1982)
- Willie Nelson – Whiskey River (1973)
- Jerry Reed – You Took All The Ramblin’ Out Of Me (1972)
- Charlie Feathers – Can’t Hardly Stand It (1956)
- Waylon Jennings – I Ain’t Living Long Like This (1979)
- Waylon Jennings – Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way (1975)
- C.W. McCall – Convoy (1975)
- Hasil Adkins – Get Out of My Car (1966)
As much as we may love the older music performers we grew up with, or cherish the performers from a past beyond our own, there might be nothing worse to behold as a music fan than watching an aging artist who refuses to come to grips with reality, and won’t let go of the spotlight. Of course it is a shame that the music business is so callous towards its aging talent and seems so quick to cast its older entertainers off. But all artists eventually age and experience the passing of mass interest, and must face a new set of realities.
As much as Ronnie Dunn started out showing promise as a substantive artist and one willing to speak his mind about the state of the country music business after the Brooks & Dunn breakup, he’s now out there now kinking his hair and cutting country rap songs. Hank Williams Jr. might be the poster boy for the country artist who’s unwilling to face their fate; carousing with Kid Rock and taking great care not to show any gray in his mane. Remember when Alabama collaborated with ‘N Sync? Or the catastrophe of Kenny Rogers’ facelift? Even our beloved Willie Nelson had a moment when he thought the best thing for his career was to cut a Dave Matthews song produced by Kenny Chesney. We can’t blame our country heroes for not wanting to call it quits from the mainstream spotlight until they’re absolutely sure it’s time, but sometimes you wonder why they just can’t rest on their laurels, appreciate their years of success and the financial windfall it afforded them, and simply refocus on the music as their first priority.
That is exactly what we are seeing from two of country music’s most prestigious previous heavyweights: Alan Jackson and Vince Gill. With 34 CMA Awards, over 20 Grammys, and and some 80 million records sold between the two, they both have seen their share of overwhelming commercial success, public notoriety, and peer recognition. But over the last few years the writing has been on the wall that their time has come, and their days of widespread radio play and big awards are over.
And so what did these two men do? Did they shake their fists at the system and criticize it for being unfair? Did they try to mix it up with some young artist outside of the genre to hopefully rekindle interest? Did they debut a new look to try to hide their age? No, they both did something out-of-the-ordinary—they embraced their roles as legacy artists, and put out albums that paid homage to the roots of the music that brought them both so much fortune over the years.
Vince Gill teemed up with legendary steel guitar player Paul Franklin and put out an impressive and energetic tribute to the West Coast influence on country called Bakersfield, swapping songs from California country titans Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. For all the chatter about country having to evolve to stay commercially viable, Bakersfield debuted at #4 on the charts and sold an impressive 12,000 copies its first week—virtually unheard of for a tribute album, especially one from an older artist.
Right on the heels of Bakersfiled‘s success, Alan Jackson has just released an album of bluegrass music simply called The Bluegrass Album. It includes 8 Jackson originals all done in authentic bluegrass style, and covers artists like Bill Monroe and The Dillards. The record is a critic’s favorite and has been creating tremendous buzz.
As much as country music, especially in the current era, may feel like a business of the here and now, one thing that still separates country from other genres is the role of the legacy artist. Rock once had this as well, but there is a reason a 51-year-old Sheryl Crow decided to bring her act to country in 2013. As much as it may pain purists when pop and rock artists cross over to country, it also speaks to how despite the conventional thinking of modern country as a kid’s game, country still deliver strength to older artists. Sure, artists like Vince Gill and Alan Jackson may no longer be able to sell out arenas, but they’re also not considered “has-been’s” simply because the big hits have stopped coming. You may not be treated as a superstar in the twilighting of your country career, but you’re still doted on as a legend by core fans who will never forget your contributions. That was one of the unfortunate things about the early passing of Waylon Jennings. He never got that opportunity to take a victory lap and stand as a country music elder statesman.
Like Emmylou Harris allowing her raven hair to turn a shimmering silver, watching an artist age in country music can be a splendid thing to behold when the artist performs the transition with grace, class, and wisdom, and the industry allows this process to unfold naturally instead of shutting them out. By setting new parameters of success that don’t have to do with sales and flashy awards, an artist can craft the finishing touches on their legacy while the genre shows their respects for their contributions.
But moreover, what Vince Gill and Alan Jackson have proven is they still have plenty of tread on the tires, and aging artists can still have a sizable impact and contribution to the country music canon.
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, Iâll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. Weâll see where the fuck youâre at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, âfuck you if youâre gonna rip us off like that on your first release.â
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I donât even comment on these things, really. I donât even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I donât know. Itâs, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and Iâm like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I donât know how many times I have to say it: No, heâs not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire cultureâand not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, “âNone of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.â According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, “âTheyâre doinâ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckinââ (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” ââDierksâ has officially ripped off my song âIn A Razor Town.ââ Isbell fired off. âDierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called âHome.ââÂ Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, âThis is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about thingsâI donât really believe in lawsuits or threatsâI took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? Thatâs crazy. I donât know what would make an artÂist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about someÂthing other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made toÂ Rolling StoneÂ was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are Godâs answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF âOLD FARTâ & JACKASSâ) â P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement âNobody wants to listen to their grandpas musicâ..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLYâŚ The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. âFor The Goodtimesâ Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
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