“When people ask me who I admire most in the world, I always have the same answer: Muhammad Ali.” –Waylon Jennings
The occasion of Waylon Jennings’ Arizona estate being auctioned off on October 5th by Guernsey’s Auctions has given us the opportunity to sit back and be awed at the remarkable life this poor boy from Littlefield, TX lived. The artifacts that Waylon accumulated over the years tell the story of a man who lived an incredible life, and one with a little more refinement than what there appeared to be on his rough, “Outlaw” surface. The presence of a letter to Waylon from John Lennon speaks to the breadth of Waylon’s influence and respect in the music world, but outside of music, there was another acquaintance, just as remarkable in its strangeness, but even more astounding in its depth. I’m speaking of Waylon’s undying friendship with Muhammad Ali.
Two heavyweights from different disciplines coming together in friendship is one thing. But the respect these two men had for each other is something so erudite and unexpected, it can give you chills.
“I thought he was too smart-ass for his own good when I first heard of him,” Waylon said in his autobiography with Lenny Kaye. “But after I realized what he was doing, he left-hooked me quick. Muhammad talked about himself with a grand sense of humor, but it helped that he was probably the most gracefully flamboyant boxer of our lifetime.”
Waylon was introduced to Muhammad Ali by Kris Kristofferson in 1978. “I met him back in the ’70s, after I did ‘A Star Is Born,’ and he’d seen the movie,” Kristofferson tells Men’s Journal. “We’ve been close since. I remember that Waylon Jennings, who wasn’t impressed with anybody, wanted to meet Ali. I introduced them at some restaurant in Los Angeles, and I was worried because that’s when Waylon was really messed up. He looked like death eating a soda cracker – his hair was all greasy and he’d been up for a month, I think. But they became great friends too.”
Kristofferson says of Ali, “I’m still close with Muhammad, and he’s probably the biggest hero in my lifetime.”
In Ali’s dressing room during a fight is where the deep friendship between Waylon and Ali was forged. “Kris brought me back to his dressing room the night he won the belt back from Leon Spinks. Before the fight, he was the most calm man you ever saw, sitting on his trainer’s table, waiting, sure it was a done deal.”
Muhammad Ali’s September 15th, 1978 fight with Leon Spinks wasn’t just your typical boxing match, or even your typical heavyweight title fight involving Muhammad Ali. Earlier that year in February, Spinks became the first man to defeat Ali in the ring to claim boxing’s heavyweight belt. Seven months later in Louisiana the rematch ensued, held at the Superdome and immortalized as the “Battle of New Orleans.” Ali, who hadn’t taken the first bout seriously, won the rematch solidly in 15 rounds by a unanimous decision. Once again, Muhammad Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the World, making him the first ever three-time champ.
“When I left, he simply said ‘Waylon,’ and gave me a big hug,” Waylon recalls, but that was not all he gave Waylon. Whether it was a token of his friendship, or repaying Waylon for being his good luck charm that night, Muhammad Ali gave Waylon the white terrycloth robe he wore before the fight, and the training gloves from the bout as a gift. At that moment, a robe that already was a priceless artifact of the boxing world also became an important artifact in the country music world, bestowed with such honor by the friendship between the two men.
“We had lunch in L.A. a few months later,” Waylon remembers. “And after Shooter (Waylon’s son with Jessi Colter) was born, I called him and told him we were having a christening. ‘We’d love to have you,’ and sure enough, he showed up and flopped down on the couch. ‘I’m here to integrate this joint,’ he said with a smile.”
Waylon once wrote a song for Muhammad Ali called “Here’s To The Champions,” but never got to sing or record it for him. But at a Parkinson’s Fund dinner in Phoenix in 2010, Kris Kristofferson sang the song with Waylon’s widow Jessi Colter for Ali. It reportedly brought tears to Ali’s eyes. The yellow piece of paper Waylon wrote the lyrics to Ali’s song on, as well as other pictures of Ali from Waylon’s estate will be a part of the upcoming Waylon auction along with the robe, and the gloves given to Waylon by Ali.
After attending Shooter’s christening, something else happened that showed the deep friendship between Waylon and Ali. “I had just bought the bus we called Shooter I,” Waylon recalls. “It wasn’t even furnished yet; I don’t know if it had license tags. Muhammad asked me for the keys, drove it to Louisville to see his momma, and then brought it back. He could have kept it for all I cared. He means that much to me, and the world.”
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“You can’t just roll into town anymore. It’s a fucking arms race to find the last affordable rental. More Wayne Newton than Waylon Jennings.” — Caitlin Rose
It’s that penultimate moment—that tipping point—when a town or neighborhood known for it’s cool, rich, and creatively-vibrant culture becomes so awash with interlopers, gentrifying hipsters, and retiring baby boomers that the critical mass point is reached in redevelopment, rising rents, and real estate prices and the entire thing implodes, leaving in ruin the whole reason people desired to be in the area in the first place, and taking with it the inspiration that brews beneath the streets, the collaboration that is fostered in its venues and low rent space, and a magical time and place on the musical timeline falls victim to imported money and urban renewal, maybe to be harbored once again in another part of town or another town altogether, or maybe not.
Nashville—not Music Row Nashville—but the independent underbelly of Nashville and specifically the East Nashville portion of town, have been the rallying point for the current generation of vibrant country and Americana artists that make up the heart of what independent roots music has been all about for the last half decade to decade or so, but even going back to the 70′s when songwriters from Texas were moving to the city to be closer to artists who may cut their songs. East Nashville’s affordability gave artists the ability to be flexible with their income, allowed them to be able to only work part time, or dedicate themselves solely to their craft in a way that wouldn’t be possible amidst a higher cost of living. East Nashville was the creative generator of Music City, churning out songs that inspired the rest of the town, and the rest of the industry.
But all that might be changing, or has changed, depending on who you ask.
In late June Saving Country Music published an article entitled How Nashville’s Economic Boom Could Kill Its Creativity, later to be reposed by American Songwriter. In just the short two-month period that has since passed, as more and more development breaks ground and other massive building projects get announced, Music City may have finally reached the point of no return; at least that is what some of the artists are now saying.
On August 21st, performer and songwriter Caitlin Rose, daughter of well-known songwriter Liz Rose, went on a Twitter rant about what she sees currently going on in Nashville.
“Everyone can stop moving to Nashville now. We’re full. Thanks.” Caitlin said in part. “Did y’all hear they’re tearing down all of Nashville and putting one giant Margaritaville in its place? People come to Nashville for the music. They stay for the expensive chain restaurants and condo culture. They never leave… Everyone’s got dreams of making it in Music City, USA. Most of them don’t. Like barely any of them.”
This marrying of concerns about the percentage of independent businesses and the ability for young artists to make it in the city speaks to complexity of the gentrification issue. It’s not just the low rents, or even the concentration of creative types in a certain locale that sees the formation of a creative epicenter, it’s also the inspiration that can be drawn from cool old buildings, independently-owned business, mural art and graffiti, and a menagerie of other community elements that go into building a creative forward environment. “Just saw badass dude biking down Charlotte with a raccoon on his shoulder and a box full of blankets. Fuck new Nashville and condo culture,” Caitlin Rose tweeted out a few days later.
Justin Townes Earle, son of alt. country forefather Steve Earle, has been another vocal opponent of Nashville’s gentrification. Earle grew up in the city, and regularly takes to Twitter to complain about the bulldozing of landmarks, the building of condos, and the general scrubbing away of everything Music City is supposed to be about. Earle recently told American Songwriter, “Nashville is where I was born and raised, I never got away from the city, but the city is definitely not the city that I grew up in…It’s pretty crazy, people here think they live in New York. They live in Nashville, and it’s hard to swallow sometimes. I had a fucked up childhood so I lived in over 30 houses in the city, and I think that maybe two of them are still standing, and one of them is part of an apartment complex.“
Otis Gibbs is one of East Nashville’s most identifiable musician residents, and offers a slightly different perspective. His Thanks For Giving A Damn podcast regularly features friends and neighbors from his East Nashville haunt, and he likes to hoot and harp on the East Nashville way of living regularly on Twitter.
“Amy Lashley and I moved here seven years ago from Indianapolis, but the growth in East Nashville started long before we came along,” says Otis. “People like Chuck Mead, Skip Litz, Joe McMahan, Kevin Gordon, Sergio Webb, Mike Grimes and later Todd Snider were living here and touring the world twenty years ago, or more. Back before that people like Guy Clark, Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Grady Martin and a lot of others lived here. This has been a neighborhood full of creative people over the last few decades, but the national media is just now catching on.”
Otis shared a picture with Saving Country Music of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Susanna Clark on Guy Clark’s porch in East Nashville that speaks to the history of East Nashville as a bastion for creative types.
“Nashville is home to the best pickers in the world,” says Otis Gibbs. “It’s an embarrassment of riches and it’s easily my favorite part of living here. I played a venue in Zurich, Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and saw a poster advertizing my neighbor’s band. He owns the house next to mine and he’ll be playing that same club next month. The first time I ever met that same neighbor was when we both played a festival in Springfield, Illinois. He walked up to me back stage and said, “I think you live in the house next to mine.” That sort of thing happens all the time. I once learned who moved into the house down the street from me by reading his name on his road cases as he was moving in.”
Otis says home ownership for East Nashville’s musicians is one way to hold on to heart of what the community has become over the years.
“It’s always nice to see musicians in my neighborhood who own their homes. It’s cheaper than renting and if property values get as crazy around here as some people suspect, they’ll have something to show for it. I have friends in South Austin who bought their homes back in the day and have seen their homes quadruple in value.”
The problem is when those homes values increase, if the musicians aren’t already locked into ownership, they are locked out of the community in rising prices and rents, and that is the new dilemma arising for many of East Nashville’s musicians. One of the biggest points of contention in the community is the splitting of lots so that two new homes can be built on the same original lot. Along with the demolition of older apartment complexes, this has seen the inventory of older and cheaper housing in the city dry up, and with it, much of the original character of East Nashville neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, including East Nashville’s Inglewood and Rosebank districts are looking to restructure zoning laws to help stem the tide of gentrification.
Still, growth and lot division is occurring because of the demand for more living space in East Nashville, and where there are losers, there’s winners as well. Craig Havighurst, a writer and the co-host of Music City Roots has a different take on condos and all of the commotion about Nashville growth.
Urban creative hives require urban scale and urban density, which is something I feel we’re only beginning to approach from South of Broadway all the way out to Green Hills. Two houses on one lot are a way to provide critical housing supply without sprawling. It might prove to be one of the best accidental policy ideas the city’s ever had. Because better to build in and up than out. Complaints that the houses are too large for their lots are entirely subjective and based on the look and feel of a kind of neighborhood that isn’t necessarily compatible with urban dynamism. The new people fill new restaurants and coffee shops, where those aspiring musicians find jobs while they develop. And a lot of those new arts and music professionals bought starter homes in Inglewood and Sylvan Park. We can empathize with folks who are seeing their rents rise and still acknowledge that for many, this was a good investment that will make their future more secure.
What everyone can agree on is that the cultural dynamic that exists in Nashville at the moment and has helped give rise to artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Caitlin Rose, Justin Townes Earle, Cory Branan, Tristen, Lindi Ortega, many more countless names in the past, and who knows who in the future, is in every music fan’s interest in seeing preserved because of the musical riches it has afforded us for the last few years, and for decades before.
On October 5th, Guernsey’s Auctions will be liquidating a massive 2,000-piece collection of items owned by Waylon Jennings from his Arizona estate. Though there are many items of intrigue to be sold off, one of the most curious might be the letter John Lennon once wrote to Waylon Jennings. Representing such a clashing of music worlds, this artifact of popular music is one of the few insights we have into men that spent most of their lives trying to protect their privacy and wearing their personas like armor.
The letter first surfaced in the public eye in the glossy photo section of Waylon’s 1996 autobiography with Lenny Kaye. No explanation, and no context for the letter was given, simply the caption of, “A Beatle writes…” Beyond the natural curiosity the letter creates from being between two megastars who on the surface would seem to be polar opposite personalities, the hilarity Lennon embedded throughout the letter makes it especially enriching. Waylon Jennings and John Lennon were not as far apart as one would think, or as even the two stars thought themselves when they first met at the Grammy Awards in New York.
For starters, Waylon and John had a “Buddy” between them. Buddy Holly was a big influence on The Beatles during the British band’s early stages, and Waylon did time as the bass player in Buddy Holly’s backing band “The Crickets” when the two original members took a break. The name “The Crickets” by many accounts is what directly inspired Lennon to call his band with Paul McCartney “The Beatles,” (McCartney was responsible for changing the ‘e’ to an ‘a’). The first song John Lennon ever recorded with Paul McCartney and George Harrison was a cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day.” It was also Waylon who gave up his seat to The Big Bopper on that fateful plane that crashed in 1959 in an event that later became known as “The Day The Music Died,” taking the lives of the Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
But when John Lennon met Waylon, Buddy Holly was not what was on his mind, and it wasn’t on Waylon’s either. As revealed in a 1996 interview with Waylon by Terry Gross, both stars had the other pegged incorrectly before they met. “I met John Lennon, and I – you know, we were cutting up and everything at one of the Grammy things,” Waylon recalls. “And I said, ‘Man, you’re a lot of – you’re funny. I didn’t know you were funny,’ I said. ‘I thought you were some kind of mad guy or something like that.’”
This explains in part the humorous tone Lennon took with the letter.
When it came to how Lennon perceived Waylon, it was even more off the mark.
As much as Waylon’s reputation in the United States was one of a rough and tumble country music Outlaw, in the U.K. it was even more so. During an early studio session in Waylon’s career, he was recording at RCA in Nashville when he brought a gun into the studio to make a point about RCA’s session players playing “pickup notes.” Waylon didn’t feel like session players played with any feeling to their music. They were great players, but after playing on so many different recordings each day, they lacked the type of imagination and creativity Waylon wanted on his records. This perception of session players was later one of the foundations for the Outlaw movement, but while Waylon was still under the thumb of RCA, he had to do whatever he could to get the session players to play with feeling.
So during one studio session, Jennings brought a long-barreled Colt Buntline revolver with him and proclaimed, “The first guy that I hear use a pickup note, I’m going to shoot his fingers off!” Though the session players themselves probably took it mostly as sarcasm, some British journalists who were in the studio observing the session at the time didn’t have the same handle on American custom or Waylon’s personality. After their reports of Waylon carrying a revolver into the studio were published, Waylon’s Outlaw reputation in Britain only grew more menacing.
So when Waylon said to John Lennon at The Grammy Awards, “I thought you were some kind of mad guy or something like that,” Lennon’s response was, “Listen, people in England think you shoot folks.“
All indications are Waylon Jennings and John Lennon hit it off like peanut butter and jelly. Though the letter itself does not shed much light on when they met (the date Lennon gives is “MARCH SOMETHING (year of our ford),” though it does say “75 etc.” below), they likely met on March 1st, 1975 at the Uris Theater in New York City during the year’s Grammy Awards. Waylon was up for Best Country & Western Vocal Performance for his song “I’m A Ramblin’ Man,” and Lennon was a resident of New York at the time.
The letter seems to be prefacing Lennon sending Waylon a song or songs he wrote but never released. From misspelling Waylon’s first name (and correcting it with pen), to Lennon’s Liverpool accent coming out in his typing (“TWAS GOOD TA MEETYA”), to the self-portrait squiggle of his own visage, the John (Lennon) letter to Waylon may offer as much insight into the true personality of the legendary Beatle than any other artifact he left behind on this mortal coil. And it’s one that is given special meaning because of who it was sent to.
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UPDATE: The letter sold at auction for $7,500.
From the fertile Outlaw country ground that comprises the hills and hollers of Boone County, West Virginia comes a homespun, but inspired and deftly-written insight into the American experience called No Place Lower Than High. Composed and performed by the virtual unknown singer and songwriter Justin Payne, this no budget project cut in a 100-year-old coal camp house is rough-hewn, scratchy, and sometimes hard to listen to through the production shortcomings. But hiding under all of the coal dust is a soul-bearing, bare-chested, and unfettered account of one man’s dreams and demons more than worthy of listening in on.
When I use the term “Outlaw” to describe Justin Payne, I mean the Merriam-Webster version, the Waylon Jennings circa 1974 version, with the half time bass beat holding everything together and the Telecaster phase guitar turned high. This album is Outlaw in every sense of the classic terminology, but it’s not just tone, bravado, and style like the stereotypical Waylon or Paycheck interpretation of Outlaw. This album has the Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark legacy of the Outlaw era in it too with intense, weighty songwriting lurking within these tracks, and a troubadour’s heart hiding beneath Payne’s brambly exterior.
When it comes to the songwriting on No Place Lower Than High, Justin Payne measures high on all gradients. Vulnerable, honest, insightful, and personal, Payne aims right for the heart and sinks his lyrical dagger true. Justin doesn’t undertake in character generation on this album. This isn’t a work of folklore or fiction. Payne’s narratives are ripped right out of his own experiences in those Boone County hills, and the truth behind the words of these songs is what makes them so gripping.
What holds No Place Lower Than High back is simply the way it sounds in certain places. Though in the same regard, the style is one of the album’s strengths. Foggy, slightly muted, unmastered, and employing some very strange tones in places, especially in the drums that sound at times electronic (whether they are or not), this is the unfortunate assessment that will probably keep certain listeners at arm’s length. But generally, Justin has the arrangements and even the tones and styles spot on; it’s just the production level leaves a layer of film on the project that passive music fans might not be able to listen through. Conversely this haziness is also what makes the album sound classic and cool, and there’s a lot of accidental genius and endearing simplicity in the way this album was cut and glued together. A song like “The Fall” came out perfect, and would be criminal to tinker with.
Strip away all the music, and simply on paper this album has so many great compositions. “The Man I Should Be,” “The Fall,” “Life Is A Country Song,” “Papers,” “Sunday Song”—they just keep coming. The only song that seems unfortunate to have made the cut is “Your Kind.” Destined to be taken the wrong way by certain listeners, it falls into more of the stereotype of what one might expect from this album, instead of what one actually gets from the other nine songs. It’s just very divisive in its tone, where the rest of No Place Lower Than High barrels you over with the unexpected poetry and wisdom.
Justin Payne is no crooner, but similar to the production of the album, you root for him, and he surprises you with his vocal adroitness, and sense of timing and dynamics, making the most of his given attributes and authentic drawl.
It wouldn’t be fair to not dock No Place Lower Than High for the flaws of the project illuminated above, but you get the sense with this inaugural album that there is something very strong here, something extremely promising that just needs a little polishing, while at the same time, taking great care not to compromise what makes Justin Payne so cool and authentic, and greatly enjoying what he’s already done with this album.
No Place Lower Than High is a superb underground gem sifted out of a mess of coal rubble, in an era when such discoveries seem much too far between.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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In early August it was revealed that Guernsey’s Auctions out of New York City was preparing to auction off 2,000 items from the Waylon Jennings estate in Chandler, Arizona, with the proceeds going to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Now even more details of the auction items have been revealed as the auction house has made a detailed auction guide available for pre-order.
The items will be made available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Included in the auction is a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams. There’s also an authentic set of Willie Nelson’s famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylon’s newly-found sobriety. There’s also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. There’s also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979 (read more).
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JD’s in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylon’s Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
For more information on the auction, visit www.guernseys.com.
Braids Willie Nelson gave to Waylon after he found sobriety.
“Storms Never Last” Bronze Bust
Waylon’s Stage Chair
Waylon’s Personal Rolex Submariner Watch
Porsche Design Sunglasses & Case
Porsche Design Sunglasses
Partner Desk Given to Waylon by Johnny Cash in 1985
Original contract forming the supergroup The Highwaymen.
Photo Display from the Music Row Museum
Muhammad Ali’s Training Gloves
Muhammad Ali’s Ring Robe Presented to Waylon Jennings by Ali in 1978
Letter from John Lennon To Waylon
Original Black Crayon Drawing of Johnny Cash by William Nelson
Hat Worn by Hank Williams Jr. During a Live Performance
Nomination Plaque for “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”
Fender Custom Shop Waylon Jennings Telecaster
Waylon’s Favorite Pair of Lucchese Boots
Engraved ST Dupont Black Chinese Lacquer and Gold Lighter c. 1970s
Hank Williams’ Custom-made Nudie Cowboy Boots
Costume Worn by Jennings in Sesame Street’s Follow That Bird
“The Buddy Holly Days”
Baume Mercier Watch
Nashville Rebel Poster with Autograph
Autographed Nashville Rebel Poster WITH ORIGINAL SHARKEY’S POSTER
1943 Martin Guitar 00021
The Highwayman Goes Gold
Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Every day tens of thousands of people put on the police uniform and put their lives on the line to protect and serve the citizens of the United States, and do it with a servant’s heart and a sincere desire to protect their local communities. But others step over bounds, grow power hungry in their positions, and some communities have dealt with corruption and brutality in policing for decades to where over the years it has become an eternal theme in American music, and in country music specifically.
Many country music songs deal with characters being incarcerated, being sent on the lamb, or being killed for things they have done that are wrong. However the following songs are ones that question if anything was done wrong in the first place, or decry how the system doesn’t allow previous wrongdoers to truly rehabilitate.
Here are 10 country songs criticizing the police state.
Johnny Cash – San Quentin
Many of Johnny Cash’s songs speak out about the inequality and ineffectiveness of America’s jails and the police state in general, and he punctuated this sentiment throughout his career with his legendary prison concerts. But no Johnny Cash song spells it out more clearly than “San Quentin”.
“And I leave here a wiser, weaker man. Mr. Congressman, you can’t understand.”
Kris Kristofferson – “The Law Is For Protection of the People”
From Kris Kristofferson’s first, self-titled album from 1970 which also included iconic Kristofferson-written tunes like “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Me & Bobby McGee,” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “The Law Is For Protection of the People” is arguably Kristofferson’s most powerful counter-cultural, anti-authoritarian statement of his career. Another song from the album, “Best Of All Possible Worlds” also carries a strong message about the police, but one where Kristofferson admits to his own drunken culpability.
“So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line, and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross.”
J.J. Cale – “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma”
Native Oklahoman J.J. Cale’s calling out of middle America’s aggressive police state has also been covered famously by Cody Canada & The Departed, and by numerous bluegrass bands including the Yonder Mountain String Band and the Hutchinson Brothers. It is from J.J.’s 1973 album Really.
“They got fines, they got plenty. They’ll hold you up for days on end. Threaten your life, take your money. Make you think you’re there to stay.”
Waylon Jennings -”Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”
The song is about Waylon’s cocaine arrest in 1977 for conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. A courier tipped off Federal agents that a package sent to Waylon from his lawyer/manager Neil Reshen contained 27 grams of cocaine. As authorities waited to obtain a search warrant, Waylon flushed the drugs down the toilet, and the charges were later dropped. Waylon blamed the whole episode on the marketing of his music as “Outlaw.” The song includes one of the best lines of any country song decrying the police state.
“I’m for law and order, the way that it should be. This song’s about the night they spent protecting you from me.”
Waylon Jennings - “Good Ol’ Boys” (Dukes of Hazzard Theme)
“Just some good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm…”
Waylon says in his biography, “They thought that was good but said all it needed was something about two modern-day Robin Hoods, fighting the system. So I wrote, ‘Fighting the system, like two modern-day Robin Hoods,’ and they didn’t even know they wrote the damn line. It was my first million-selling single.”
Merle Haggard – “Branded Man”
Speaking out about the difficulty felons find in the world after they’re released from jail, this classic country tune was the title track off of Merle’s fourth album released in 1968. Though there is no shortage of prison songs in country music complaining about how tough it is in the clink or once you get out, “Branded Man” speaks specifically about the inability of the police state to rehabilitate and re-indoctrinate ex convicts back into society.
“I paid the debt I owed ‘em, but they’re still not satisfied. Now I’m a branded man out in the cold.”
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Johnny Law
One of Wayne Hancock’s signature tunes about being pulled over for doing nothing wrong, “Johnny Law” is something most any American can relate to.
“You ain’t nothin’ but a bully with a star on your chest.”
The Bottle Rockets – “Radar Gun”
The cowpunk/alt-country entry into the list, “Radar Gun” was The Bottle Rockets biggest hit, reaching #27 on Billboard’s rock charts. It was released on their album The Brooklyn Side in 1994, later re-issued by Atlantic Records in 1995.
“Schedule 19 on a special election
Got our money problems right in hand
Droppin them limits like a hot potato
50 down to 30, oh man, oh man.”
Johnny Cash & Bruce Springsteen – “Highway Patrolman”
Though “Highway Patrolman” is seen by many as being against the police state, its message is much more subtle than most. Written and performed originally by Bruce Springsteen on his 1982 album Nebraska, it tells the tale of a Highway Patrolman who regularly looks the other way when his brother does wrong in the local community the officer is charged to protect. Johnny Cash covered the song on his album from the following year, Johnny 99—titled from another Bruce Springsteen song off of Nebraska.
“Well if it was any other man, I’d put him straight away
But when it’s your brother sometimes you look the other way.”
James Hand – “Old Man Henry”
When the 97-year-old Henry refuses to relinquish his land for a highway being built through town, he gets shot down by police who think he’s reaching for his rifle when he goes to pick up his cane. “Old Man Henry” off of Jame Hand’s 2012 album Mighty Lonesome Man is based partially off of true events.“40 rifles raised, from 40 men half crazed. As the bullets struck all around him, his house it caught ablaze. 40 rifles then, raised and fired again. As the fatal bullets hit him, Henry fell across Mary’s grave. A man of 97 years, lay dead upon the ground. As his soul winged up to heaven, a gentle rain came down. Henry laid across his Mary, their little home a pile of ash. Nothing left but the memories, they got their damned highway at last.”
What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth.
2014 has been a retrenching of sorts for many of country music’s legacy artists. Dolly Parton and Billy Joe Shaver have released albums after multi-year hiatuses from the studio, and to high praise and successful chart performances. The release of Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among The Stars treated classic country fans to an entire album’s worth of unheard material and collaborations with stars who’ve passed on, including Waylon Jennings and June Carter.
The song “It Ain’t You” off of Ray Benson’s album A Little Piece continues this trend of offering both something unheard, but something wrought during the living era of a legendary artist, and paid forward with reverence and care by those still around who are inspired by their legacy.
Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines. Benson was blown away that nobody had ever recorded the “undiscovered gem,” and he called up Willie Nelson who agreed to do the song with Ray. Willie recorded his part in his Western ghost town of Luck, TX. With Ray being 64, and Willie being 81, but both performers being very much in charge of their faculties and charging forward with their music careers, the pairing was perfect to embody the theme of “It Ain’t You” about growing old but staying young.
“It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. It has the similar self-reflective and age-recognizing tone of other Waylon-performed songs like “Memories of You And I”—pondering one’s own mortality and how age sees the sifting of abilities through your fingers. At the same time there’s a defiant strength woven through the lines; a reassurance that even though wrinkles may appear on the surface, the soul of a man continues to become refined over time.
The music, and both Ray Benson’s and Willie’s performances are chilling enough, but the video for “It Ain’t You” takes it a step further, fully understanding what’s at the heart of the song, and pulling out all the stops to not only do the song justice, but enhance the experience through the visual medium. The wisdom of knowing what the simple sight of Willie’s battle-worn hands can stir in the beholder, while crafting a way to capture the spirit of the long-time friendship between Ray and Willie so purely is worth watching even if the song itself doesn’t strike a particular chord with the listener.
Even without the legacies of Ray Benson, Asleep At The Wheel, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Gary Nicholson behind it, “It Ain’t You” would still be a song for the ages. Like the song’s writers, caretakers, and performers, it is destined to grow in stature over time.
Two guns up!
As one of the primary members of country music’s “Class of ’89″ that’s regularly given credit for veering country music into a too commercial direction, Alan Jackson seems to never be given enough credit for being one of the genre’s staunch traditionalists that has stood up for the roots and the legends of country music arguably more than any other mainstream star, and just as much (if not more) than The Outlaws of the 70′s did. When you sit back and reflect on his now legendary career that has seen the sale of over 80 million records and seen Alan amass dozens of industry awards, there is no question Alan Jackson deserves the distinction of being an ultimate country music badass.
More in this series:
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Wanda Jackson Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
- 10 Badass Kris Kristofferson Moments
1. Starting His Career in the TNN Mailroom
Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings got their start in music as DJ’s. Kris Kristofferson started out as a janitor in the Columbia studios. For those with music in their blood, they will do whatever it takes to get their foot in the door of the music business. For Alan Jackson, it was getting a job in the mailroom of The Nashville Network’s offices.
Jackson was born in Newnan, Georgia, and grew up in a house built out of his grandfather’s old tool shed. Jackson’s mom still lives in the house to this day. Jackson had been married to his high school sweetheart Denise for 6 years before deciding to move to Nashville to pursue music full time. Once they hit Music City, Jackson needed to do something to support the household, and TNN was hiring. He later met Glen Campbell and the rest is history.
2. Wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt on the 1994 ACM Awards
Today this would be no big deal. In fact it would probably be considered an upgrade from some of the ridiculous regalia many modern-day country stars get duded up in on award shows. But in 1994, country music’s prime time presentations were still very much black tie affairs. And here comes Alan Jackson walking out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It would pale in comparison to what would happen next on the show (see below), but Alan bucking the black tie dress code was scandalous on its own, and was probably meant as its own protest against the ACM’s stuffy atmosphere and a presentation that showed little reverence to the roots of the music.
Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, “Here you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?”
Jackson’s response was, “Well, I love Hank, and a fan…I get a lot of gifts on the road playing, and a fan gave me this shirt, and I just saw it in the closet before I came out here this weekend and I grabbed it and said, ‘I’m gonna wear it for my song,’ you know, ‘Gone Country.’ Hank’s country.”
3. Protesting The Backing Track on the 1994 ACM Awards
The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jackson’s oyster. Held at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on May 3rd, Alan walked away that night with the Top Male Vocalist award, and co-hosted the event with Reba McEntire. But when it came to performing what would be his upcoming #1 single and one of the signature songs of the era “Gone Country”, Alan Jackson couldn’t sit right with the charade most country award shows pull on their audience.
Before the show, producers told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded rhythm section track, which Jackson clearly felt was tantamount to lying to both his fans and the audience. So instead of playing along with the charade, Jackson tipped off the audience to the subterfuge by telling his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play without sticks. So as the performance transpires and everything sounds perfect, there is Alan Jackson’s drummer, swinging his arms like he’s playing the drums, but with no sticks in his hand.
Trust the ACM’s never asked Alan Jackson to play to a backing track again. And this wouldn’t be the last time Alan Jackson would pull a fast one on award show producers….
4. The “Pop A Top / Choices” George Jones CMA Awards Protest
Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices”. George, feeling that he wasn’t a “baby act” as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top”, cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices”.
‘‘We were all so nervous,” Alan Jackson later recalled. “The guitarist had this solo in the middle of ”Pop a Top’, and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start ‘Choices’. ”
As you can see in the video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jones’ comeback hit.
5. Releasing Under The Influences Tribute Album
During the height of Alan Jackson’s commercial success, he decided to do something rarely seen in modern day country from a superstar: he released an album made entirely of classic country covers. Including two songs from Johnny Paycheck, a cover of Merle Haggard’s “My Own Kind Of Hat”, and Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Blues Man”, Jackson’s label heads must have thought he was crazy. The album was Jackson’s way of pushing back against the pop-ification of country that was becoming a hot topic in the genre at the time.
What was the result?
It was a big success. Though it can be argued that an album of more original music might have done better, Under The Influences went Platinum, and included two hit singles. Nat Stuckey’s “Pop A Top” ended up at #6 on Billboards Country Songs chart, and Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” first made famous by Don Williams went all the way to #1. Alan Jackson proved that the classic country sound was still relevant, and commercially viable if given a chance.
6. Recording and Writing “3 Minute Positive Not Too Country Up Tempo Love Song”
Not since Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs & Waltzes”, and arguably no other song since has protested pop country’s propensity for commercialization and shallowness as well as this loquaciously-titled song written by Alan Jackson himself for his 2000 release When Somebody Loves You.
7. Recording “Murder On Music Row” with George Strait
Arguably one of the most important country music protest songs in the history of the genre, “Murder On Music Row” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell became a big success when Alan Jackson joined up with George Strait to release the song in 2000. The duo first performed the song in 1999 at the CMA Awards, and the next year the performance won the CMA for “Vocal Event of the Year.” Then the following year when it was released on George Strait’s Latest Greatest Straitest Hits album, it was awarded the CMA for “Song of the Year.” That’s right, a song talking about how country music had been murdered on Music Row walked away with the genre’s highest distinction for a song.
Even though the song was never released as a single, unsolicited airplay still saw the song chart on Billboard at #38. At George Strait’s final concert in June of 2014, the duo performed the song again to the largest crowd to ever see an indoor live music event
8. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”
In stark contrast to the inflammatory nature of Toby Keith’s post-911 über hit “Courtesy Of The Red, White, & Blue”, Alan Jackson did his best to humanize and come to peace with the tragedy of 9-11 through song, and it resulted in both his most critical and commercial success of his career. Written by Jackson himself, when he first played it for label executives, there was complete silence in the room for a full minute after it stopped. Jackson was scheduled to perform his current #1 song “Where I Come From” at the 2001 CMA awards in November, but mere days before the presentation, he decided to play “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” instead. The four CMA heads were not happy about this decision until Jackson’s tour manager Nancy Russell played the song for them. They were all crying by the time the song ended.
After Jackson played the song on the CMA Awards, demand for it skyrocketed. The song was so new, his label hadn’t officially released it as a single yet, but stations already with a copy started playing it, and the song shot to #25 on the Billboard Country Songs chart almost immediately. By the next week it was at #12, and by the end of the year, it was #1 where it stayed for five weeks. It also charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #28.
Jackson’s label couldn’t make the song a commercial single fast enough to meet demand, so they instead decided to move up the release date of his album Drive from May of 2002 to January 15th. When the album was released, it went to #1 on both Billboard’s country and all-genre charts, and stayed there for four weeks off the strength of the song. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” eventually won both the “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year” from both the CMA and ACM Awards, as well as the Grammy for “Best Country Song.” It also helped propel Alan Jackson to be awarded both “Male Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” by the CMA Awards in both 2002 and 2003.
Jackson said about the song, “I think it was Hank Williams who said, ‘God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.’ That’s the way I felt with this song.”
9. Being Nominated For The Most CMA’s Ever In One Year
Bolstered by his song “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, Alan Jackson received a total of ten CMA nominations in 2002—the most in CMA history. Jackson won five of them.
- 2002 Album of the Year – Drive (Won)
- 2002 Male Vocalist of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Entertainer of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Vocal Event of the Year – “Designated Drinker” w/ George Strait (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
10. Keeping Virtually The Same Band & Producer Throughout His Entire Career
Every single one of Alan Jackson’s 15 major label album releases has been produced by Keith Stegall. Even when Jackson switched labels from Arista, Stegall stayed on board.
Jackson has also kept virtually the same band the entire time, aside from using a few bluegrass ringers for The Bluegrass Album. The loyalty Alan Jackson shows in his people, and his people’s loyalty in him, is both a sign of integrity and success.
- Monty Allen – acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
- Scott Coney – acoustic guitar, tic tac bass, banjo
- Robbie Flint – steel guitar
- Danny Groah – lead guitar
- Ryan Joseph – fiddle, harmony vocals
- Bruce Rutherford – drums
- Joey Schmidt – keyboards
- Roger Wills – bass guitar
More in this series:
Since the Johnny Cash Museum opened in downtown Nashville in May 2013, it has become one of Music City’s must-see spots and an international destination point for country music fans and Johnny Cash fans alike. Barely a year has passed since its initial opening and the museum is already tackling its first new addition. On August 15th, the museum will unveil its “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit celebrating the legendary Memphis studio that gave rise to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course, The Man in Black himself.
“Johnny Cash began his musical career at Sun Records,” says Johnny Cash Museum Founder Bill Miller. “Sun was the launch pad for several young men whose music would forever impact the world. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny came from similar backgrounds and humble beginnings. Once they walked through the door at the Memphis Recording Service, their lives would never be the same. We are proud to showcase Johnny’s labelmates from this historic period in rock and roll history.”
The Legends of Sun Records exhibit will showcase many artifacts and much information about the original class of Sun Records stars, but one man, and one particular piece of memorabilia might be worth paying a little bit of extra attention to.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland is not a name that is as familiar to music fans as the other big Sun Recordings stars, but his significance to early country and rock & roll cannot be overstated.
W.S. Holland was Johnny Cash’s drummer for 40 years, and is considered by many as the “Father of the Drums.” When he joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1960, the famous “Tennessee Two” officially became the “Tennessee Three,” but it was a fluke the drummer joined the band at all, leading to his now inseparable nickname.
W.S. Holland never intended to be a drummer. He was raised in Bemis, TN and worked for an air conditioning company after high school. He was a big music fan, and would go out after work to see Carl Perkins play with his two brothers at a local bar. Holland used to beat his hands on the side of the upright bass to the rhythm of music, and on a whim the Perkins clan invited Holland on a trip to Sun Records, and told him to borrow a drum set to play. One thing led to another, and W.S. Holland became one of Sun Records’ go-to session drummers.
W.S. Holland was the drummer for the famous “Million Dollar Quartet” session that matched up Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis (he got paid $11.50 for the gig—union scale at the time). He played on many other famous Sun Records recordings, including Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “Ring of Fire”, not as a member of Johnny’s band, but as a session player. Holland also played on many other famous Sun recordings, including “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Later W.S. Holland would take the same drum set used in many of those famous Sun Studios sessions, and they would become the first full drum set ever used on The Grand Ole Opry. Though Bob Wills back in 1945 brought his Texas Playboys to the Ryman, including their full-time drummer, The Opry forbade Bob from playing the drum set on stage. An argument ensued, and eventually The Opry caved and allowed the drummer to play a partial set behind a curtain. It’s said that Bob at one point said, “Move those things out on stage!” and the drums made a quick and controversial appearance, barring Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from the Opry for life. But the set owned by W.S. “Fluke” Holland, and the set that is on display as part of the Johnny Cash Museum’s “Legends of Sun Records” is the first full drum set, and the first officially approved set to ever grace The Grand Ole Opry’s hallowed stage.
The biggest “fluke” occurred for W.S. “Fluke” Holland when he was hired by Johnny Cash to play a quick two week run of shows in New York and Atlantic City. That two weeks lasted 40 years in Johnny Cash’s band, and the rest is history. Later when Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, W.S. “Fluke” was the supergroup’s full-time drummer. “Fluke” also played on Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, played on the Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin albums, and was also the session player for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record.
The quaint, four-piece drum set on display at the Johnny Cash Museum could be considered the most important drum set in this history of country music—and rock and roll music for that matter, or American music in general. Along with all the other important artifacts that make up the “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit, it makes this new museum addition a worthy visit for music fans of all stripes.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland still plays drums and tours today in his W.S. Holland Band.
Photos by Jarrett Gaza
Guernsey’s Auctions out of New York City is getting ready to liquidate a massive 2,000-piece collection of items owned by Waylon Jennings from his Arizona estate, with the proceeds from the auction going to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.
What can collectors expect from this rare chance to own a piece of authentic Waylon Jennings memorabilia? Well for starters, there’s a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams that are adorned appropriately with a Phoenix on the front, and an ‘H’ in the middle for “Hank”. There’s also an authentic set of Willie Nelson’s famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylon’s newly-found sobriety. There’s also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. There’s also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Waylon Jennings played bass for Buddy Holly right before he died in the plane crash in 1959 that was later memorialized in the Don McLean song “American Pie”. Waylon was supposed to be on that flight, but gave his seat up to The Big Bopper. 1 1/2 years before in May of 1958, Buddy Holly and his original Crickets flew in to Dallas’s Love Field airport on a connecting flight back to Lubbock after a big tour. But instead of flying, the three decided to purchase motorcycles and drive back.
“Then they went over to Miller’s Motorcycles, which specialized in English bikes,” Waylon recalled in his biography with Lenny Kaye. “There, Joe B, and J.I. (Allison) bought a Triumph each, a TR6 and Thunderbird, respectively, while Buddy picked out a maroon and black Ariel Cyclone, with a high compression 650cc Huntsmaster engine. They paid cash, bought matching Levi jackets and peaked caps with wings on them, and rode home through a thunderstorm.”
Then in 1979 for Waylon’s 42nd birthday, the two remaining Crickets Joe B. and J.I. tracked down the 1959 Ariel Cyclone, bought it back, and had it hand delivered to north Texas where Waylon found it sitting there in the middle of his hotel room after walking off stage that night.
“What else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldn’t mind.”
The motorcycle was eventually put on display at Waylon’s home in Arizona.
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JD’s in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylon’s Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
An auction catalog with detailed descriptions and pictures of each item is expected to be made available to the public for $32 from Guernesy’s later in August, and the items in the auction will be available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Along with making the Phoenix Children’s Hospital lots of money, let’s hope some of the more important items end up where they can enjoyed not just by the high bidder, but by all of Waylon’s fans.
As the thoughts and prayers of millions of fans keep vigil over Randy Travis in hopes the ailing singer someday will be able to share his gift for song with the world once more, life moves on and the release of Randy’s second installment of Influence: The Man I Am series approaches on August 12th. As a reflection back upon the artists and songs that created the foundation of Randy’s storied career, it only seems fitting that Waylon Jennings would work his way onto Randy’s The Man I Am track list. And not wanting to be too obvious by picking one of Waylon’s super hits from the Outlaw era, Randy selects “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”; a hard-driving, thumping number that when released in 1968 was uncharacteristic for Waylon who at the time was known as the purveyor Nashville’s country folk fare. Of course as we know now, the style and attitude the song was recorded with would later become Waylon’s signature for the rest of his career.
Written by Nashville session guitarist Jimmy Bryant and produced by Chet Atkins, the original “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” was perhaps Music Row’s answer to the more rough-hewn sound emanating from Capitol Records and the Bakersfield Sound of the time. The song went to #2 on the Billboard Country Singles chart and has since become a standard of the genre. Linda Ronstadt released a role-reversed version of the song in 1969, and The Kentucky Headhunters also recorded a famous version of the song in 1991 for their Electric Barnyard album.
The Randy Travis version of “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” is a pretty straightforward, no frills take on the song. “Only Daddy” is one of those compositions whose original will likely never be outdone by the predecessors. But Randy gives the song a new spirit and audience, and simply hearing Randy’s voice once again, especially reprising this classic piece of country music history, reminds us of how important Randy was to revitalizing country music’s classic tones in the mainstream commercial space in the mid and late 80′s and beyond.
Randy’s voice might be silent for the moment and Waylon may have long since passed, but this multi-generational country music collaboration reminds us that all the country music greats will be around forever through their timeless music.
You can also hear Randy Travis cover Marty Robbins in “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me“.
The health status of Randy Travis still remains very much in question, but that is not stopping the Randy Travis camp and Warner Bros. from releasing the second installment of his Influence: The Man I Am series on August 12th. The first album in the series was released on September 30th, 2013—a few months after Randy suffered a serious heart condition and subsequent stroke. Travis had to undergo brain surgery, and has been taking part in significant rehabilitation and physical therapy ever since the health episode.
Randy’s Influence series of releases looks to chronicle the classic country songs that went into the sound that may Randy Travis one of the most popular and influential country music artists of the late 80′s and into the 90′s and beyond. The new collection includes covers of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Hank Williams’ “Mind Your Own Business”, and Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”. It also includes the Randy Travis tribute to George Jones “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” written by Keith Gattis. Randy’s performance of the song at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest was one of his last public performances before his health issues (see below). Travis recorded both volumes in the Influence: The Man I Am series before last year’s health scare.
The extent of Randy’s paralysis after his stroke and surgery, and if he will ever sing again have been a topic of great speculation in the tabloid press, with multiple unnamed and named sources leaking conflicting information about Randy’s health status, while pictures of Randy appearing in public continue to surface. Last week yet another story citing an unnamed source surfaced in Closer Magazine, saying, “He hasn’t plateaued in his recovery, which is always a big fear. He really faces a long, tough battle.” The story also cites songwriter and Randy Travis friend Bonnie Paul who says, “He’s taking great strides and getting better. He’s a cowboy! If he gets back his strength, then anything is possible.”
Meanwhile any true health information about Randy’s status remains unclear, and his camp has yet to release any official statements about his prognosis or rate of recovery.
This Influence: The Man I Am series gives Randy Travis fans something new to listen to while Randy continues his hard-fought recovery to better health.
Just sit back and appreciate where we’re at for a second ladies and gentlemen. Here it is the dead of summer 2014, and the song that has everyone talking in country music is not some frivolous, carefree party anthem. It’s not some beach-bumming or beer on the tailgate half-baked haven for country cliché. It’s the song from two young girls named Maddie & Tae that directly calls out the pervasive checklist trend of male-dominated country music, and does so in a very direct, earnest manner.
No, that’s not not the smell of suntan lotion and margarita quaffing through the air, it’s the burning dolor of protest and dissent. “Girl In A Country Song“— this is the song that has everyone buzzing. This is the song that virtually every DJ and every country music website and periodical is buzzing about. This song, these girls, and the scenario it thrusts upon country music is what people find fascinating, and has captured the country music zeitgeist at this moment in time more than any other topic or song, and during a season already chock full of blockbuster singles like Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”, and compelling narratives like the return of Garth Brooks.
Displeasure reigns, and all those people who wonder why such effort is put forth to complain about country music songs that could just simply be ignored are now seeing the fruits of spirited discourse and articulate criticism. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from perfect. It may even be a stretch to call it good. But like all artistic expressions that rise above the sum of their parts, it captures a sentiment that is exceedingly relevant, and melds with the imagination of possibilities of what its success could mean.
On Monday (7-21), Maddie & Tae made an appearance on NPR of all places, and explained the inspiration behind “Girl In A Country Song”.
“Looking good for the boys is not all we have to offer for them. We’re bringing a voice for the girls in country music, and that’s why we came at this topic with a different perspective … It’s just a trend that kind of became irresponsible in its view of women, so we wanted to come about it from our perspective … Because as women, we don’t want to be thought of as one-dimensional, and that’s kind of how these songs have been portraying women. So we hope that kind of changes the game just a little bit.”
As the NPR interviewer adeptly pointed out, Maddie & Tae also say that they like some of the Bro-Country songs and artists, and wondered if the girls were presenting a double standard.
“The thing is, we do feel like this trend has been very very consistent. And we want to give this girl that these guys love singing about a voice … We say it’s a tough gig because yes we wear bathing suits and we wear cutoffs, but we do it when we want to, not necessarily when the guy puts us in that place. It is a tough gig because you have to look a certain way to be looked at as a beautiful girl, and that’s one message that we want this song to put out there, that every woman should feel beautiful whether you’re in cutoffs, whether you don’t have tan legs.”
Something else interesting is that when writing the song, the girls put together a checklist of all the things they regularly heard in cliché country songs. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”
“Checklist” was the precursor to the “Bro-Country” term, and has been a overly-consistent trend in country music since 2011. “Checklist” is how Maddie & Tae referenced the trend, not “Bro-Country.”
Over the last 35 years, country protest songs have become an indelible part of country music, and not since “Murder On Music Row” was championed by George Strait and Alan Jackson have we seen a protest song with such importance and success in the mainstream. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from traditional, whether this is to purposely mock the songs that it targets, or to pander to country’s current trends. And of course “Girl In A Country Song” is marketing, looking to re-monetize negative sentiment. But that comes from how the song was underwritten by Big Machine Records, not how it was composed by Maddie & Tae, who by all accounts wrote it with sincerity.
Do the two songs that are set to dominate the summer of 2014—”Girl In A Country Song” by Maddie & Tae, and Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”—signal a shifting of the winds in popular country music towards more substance? It still may be too early to make that determination. But it certainly is worth keeping an eye on, because anti-pop country music sentiment is at an all-time high, right beside the all-time high for country music’s popularity. Sports radio and sports websites are lampooning country regularly. It is the brunt of many pop culture jokes. What Maddie & Tae have done is given a voice to that angst, and they have done so using the same tradition Waylon Jennings started in 1975, which is taking the disappointment one has about the direction of country music, and writing a song about it.
Finally one of the most under-appreciated, but wildly-influential lyricists in country music, one of country music’s forgotten Outlaw artists, and one of America’s most creative personalities is going to get his due on the silver screen. Shel Silverstein is slated to receive the biopic treatment in a film called A Boy Named Shel—a play on words of the song “A Boy Named Sue” made famous by Johnny Cash, and written by Shel. The movie will be a screen adaptation of the book A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein written by Lisa Rogak reports Variety.
The beauty of Shel Silverstein was that he was so many different things to so many different people. To many children and adults who grew up with his books, he was a master poet and illustrator, entertaining generations with his releases such as A Light In The Attic and Where The Sidewalk Ends. To others he was a legendary cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. Still others know him as a lyricist of the rock and roll world, penning the iconic tunes “Cover of Rolling Stone” and “Sylvia’s Mother” for Dr. Hook. While others remember Shel for his country music contributions, including writing songs for other famous songwriters, not limited to Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Tompall Glaser, and Bobby Bare. Bobby Bare once released an entire album of Shel songs. Silverstein also was a noted performer himself and released numerous albums, and also worked in the theater realm.
A Boy Named Shel will explore the “personal and professional struggles” of Shel Silverstein’s life. Silverstein died in 1999 at the age of 68 at his home in Key West. The film is being developed by Wonderland Vision and Sound, known for such films as We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation. Adapting the book for film will be writers Chris Shafer and Vicknair, and Wonderland Vision principals McG and Mary Viola are producing, along with Sean Sorensen and Mathew Cullen.
No word as of yet on whose bald head will reprise the famous cranium of one of America’s most beloved poets and entertainers, or any other casting news. But all signs point to A Boy Named Shel being a big production movie that will hopefully shine a greater light on the man and his work. Shel joins a growing list of country greats receiving the biopic treatment recently. In June it was announced a Hank Williams biopic was in the works, and Waylon Jennings is also supposed to be receiving a feature film soon. Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line went on to be an award-winning account of the Man in Black, and went a long way to revitalizing interest in the country music great.
When the compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws was released in 1976, it became country music’s first million-selling record and made huge stars of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Jessi Colter was already a big star because of her big #1 hit “I’m Not Lisa”. But why did Tompall Glaser never find the big success his fellow Outlaws did? Why wasn’t Tompall able to ride the Outlaw momentum to become one of the biggest names in country music?
A recently-released biography on Tompall Glaser called The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw finally looks to tell the life story of one of the most important figures in the history of country music, but one of the most forgotten. Because Tompall’s impact was mostly felt behind-the-scenes, he arguably has never received proper credit for how he revolutionized country music in the mid 70′s with his renegade studio that broke the major label monopoly on country, and allowed creative freedom to finally reign in Nashville.
The new book, written by blood relative Kevin Glaser who is the nephew of Tompall, includes many interviews with important country music figures from today and from the time of Tompall’s greatest influence; people like Kinky Friedman, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and Marty Stuart. Kevin Glaser also speaks to influential critic and professor Dave Hickey who spent significant time at Glaser Studios in Nashville during the height of the Outlaw movement. In the new biography, Hickey helps explain why Tompall never became as famous as his Outlaw brothers while painting a picture of what the Glaser Sound Studios were like.
From “The Great Tompall”:
Hickey first came to Nashville with an assignment to write a book about Waylon and Willie. He never got around to it since he existed in a “fog of cocaine and dope” during his time at Glaser Sound Studios. He considers the time he spent there as a “studio internship,” and mentioned that because he lived two blocks away, he would sometimes sleep in the studio.
According to Hickey, “Glaser Sound Studio became ‘ground zero’ for the Outlaw Movement (a phrase that Dave claims to have coined), due to the fact that people like Tompall, Waylon, Willie and Neil Reshen were there during this time. This was the moment that country music artists discovered that they didn’t need to ask Chet Atkins’ permission before they could go to the bathroom. The old-time studio system (Acuff-Rose, etc.) could be bypassed. Everyone took control of their own destiny. They had their own publishing companies, studios, managers, etc. They weren’t beholden to record companies or to Billy Sherrill’s idea of what a good song was.”
In Hickey’s mind, the “Rebellious Center of Nashville” during this time included Roger Miller, John Lomax, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Tompall, Billy Swan, and Kinky Friedman, among others. However, Tompall was the “improviasrio of the scene” and the scene was very valuable to a great many people. Tompall was a force to be reckoned with, and he was willing to take chances. A lot of studio time was provided pro bono and involved experimental types of activities…
Hickey said that drugs were the culture of this time period (pre-1985). Glaser Studios certainly wasn’t a “drug alley,” but drugs were certainly there. Tompall got into cocaine later in his career, but he (Hickey) doesn’t think that Tompall was into speed the way Willie and Waylon were. Waylon once said that “speed is pot for people who have to work two shifts per day.” Hickey also remembers that a professional cleaning company once came in to clean up all the smoke from pot and cigarettes that had become attached to the underside of the studio soundboard….
In Hickey’s opinion, Tompall didn’t become as well known as Waylon and Willie because “the obligation of having the recording studio created somewhat of a burden for Tompall, and he was not willing to leave and go on the road for eight weeks and live in a bus, etc. It just wasn’t his thing … and that is the thing that makes performers successful. However, Tompall seemed to be comfortable with the way things were.” Also, Hickey felt that Tompall wasn’t really comfortable with the place he found in the group that included Waylon, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson. There there is a tragedy to the story of Tompall, maybe this is it. Hickey compared Tompall’s place in this group to Bill Wyman’s place in the Rolling Stones, opposite of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
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“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking.”
This is the quote that has been attributed to Waylon Jennings that you are likely to see in much greater frequency now that Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. For some, it is the totality of their argument against Garth. Forget all his music, past and future, whatever merits his music might have beyond the flashy stage show, however much the test of time has validated his music or not. To tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of people, the totality of their Garth hatred, the alpha and omega of their anti-Garth argument, rests on this quote. And if you don’t believe me, just mention Garth’s name in the right (or wrong) company, it it will come flying out at you unsolicited.
The problem is there’s no verifiable records of Waylon ever saying it. And if he did ever say it, that he is the originator of the quote. But just like the urban myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to legally change their name to KFC because the birds they use are so genetically altered they can’t be classified as chickens, if you parrot something enough, people take it as fact.
If I had a hunch, not based on fact or research whatsoever, I would say that at some point Waylon Jennings probably did utter those words about Garth, and they probably made it out to the greater world through his son Shooter Jennings. But I’ve also heard from some who say that Poodie Locke—Willie Nelson’s long-time stage manager and one prone to such humor—was the first to say it. Maybe Waylon picked it up there. But I can’t verify that Poodie Locke said it either. There are records of the “_____ did for ____ what pantyhose did for finger fucking” phrase being used for other purposes way before Garth Brooks had even released his first album, so is it really fair to attribute the analogy to anyone?
When you start to try and find the origination point of the quote, and any factual information on if Waylon truly said it or coined it, you start finding a tremendous amount of fiction. The simple fact is the quote is so juicy, and many people just want it to be real so badly, they’re willing to look the other way and proffer it up for human consumption regardless of the truth.
The first record of the quote being used goes back to of all places, Willie Nelson’s 70th Birthday Party in 2003, and from of all people, actor Ethan Hawke. In April of 2009, Ethan Hawke penned a feature on Kris Kristofferson for Rolling Stone. In the feature, Ethan Hawke recounts a story from 2003 where Kris Kristofferson and Toby Keith get into a verbal argument, and Kristofferson says the Waylon quote in response to Toby Keith’s demand, “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:
“Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.
“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.
“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.
“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”
“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, “Don’t say a word.” Then his eyes found me. “You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?” he whispered.
I shook my head.
“They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”
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Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ‘em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.
In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: ”I have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie’s birthday party — least of all to Toby Keith, (if that’s who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”
As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.
But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.
Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.
Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?
This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,
“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.” Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.
Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.
I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.
Because of Garth’s massive success, there’s a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.
It’s a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those people’s success excuses our meanness.
Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece. In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.
Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,
Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I don’t know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We don’t really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?
Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.
Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.
Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …
The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …
My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.
Photo: Miley Cyrus / RCA – Luke Bryan / Capitol Nashville
****UPDATE****UPDATE ***** UPDATE ***** UPDATE****
(6-18-2014 2:25 PM CDT): According to Luke Bryan, there is no Miley Cyrus duet coming. On Wednesday, Luke posted via Twitter, “Why is everyone asking if I’m doing a duet with miley. Not true.” As reported below, NASH’s America’s Morning Show co-host Chuck Wicks had reported Luke Bryan and Miley Cyrus were had a duet in the pipeline, and the rumor was later “confirmed” by radio personality Blair Garner (read confirmation tweet). Read more below.
****UPDATE****UPDATE ***** UPDATE ***** UPDATE****
Pop country cash cow Luke Bryan and pop star progeny Miley Cyrus could have a collaboration in the works according to various sources, including country music artist and co-host of NASH’s America’s Morning Show Chuck Wicks. On Monday morning’s program, Wicks conveyed to listeners that Luke Bryan and Miley Cyrus have a duet coming, though he gave no specifics on how the collaboration may take shape. Then another host of the show, radio personality Blair Garner confirmed the information through another source. America’s Morning Show is Cumulus Media’s syndicated NASH flagship based out of New York City.
Neither the Luke Bryan or Miley Cyrus camps have announced or confirmed anything.
Luke Bryan is arguably the biggest crossover star in country music right now, and a Miley Cyrus is not that far down in stature in the pop world. Still, a collaboration seems like somewhat of a stretch for both artists. Miley has said numerous times that despite the country music lineage from her father Billy Ray Cyrus, she would rather avoid the country music world. She told Parade Magazine in 2010 of why she never dabbled in country, “It scares me, that’s why. It feels contrived on so many levels. Unless you’re wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and singing and whining about your girlfriend or boyfriend leaving you it’s not going to sell. I think that’s why my dad finally got out of it. You have to wear those cowboy boots and be sweet as pie. It makes me nervous, the politics of it all.”
Still, according to Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley was born and bred around Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, and she does a pretty blistering version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” (Dolly is also Miley’s godmother). Of course it’s not likely this collaboration would be traditional country, and there’s also no promises it would be country at all. Certainly Luke Bryan and country music have moved so far towards pop where there may not be anything country about the duet at all.
Another interesting tidbit: At the ACM awards in April co-hosted by Luke Bryan, he made a playful dig at Miley in the opening monologue. “Jake [Owen] lost a finger in a go-cart accident,” Luke said. “You know where they found it? On Miley Cyrus’ tour bus. It was takin’ a selfie and smokin’ a doobie.”
For what it’s worth, here’s Luke Bryan covering Miley a few years ago.
Photos: Courtesy Brantley Gilbert / Travis Tritt
On Saturday night (5-31), Valory Music Group artist Brantley Gilbert headlined the Blue Ridge Music Festival in Salem, Virginia, with Thomas Rhett, ABC Nashville actress and singer Clare Bowen, and Travis Tritt opening for him. Apparently what transpired stimulated Travis Tritt to take to Twitter to question the level of respect he and his fellow openers were treated with, and the respect he and other aging artists are receiving in general. Here are the Tweets in sequential order.
Even though @BrantleyGilbert only gave us 8 feet of stage, we had a great time performing for everyone @BlueRidgeFest tonight. Great crowd! My word of advice to all up and coming performers: Don’t kick anymore asses on your way up than you are willing to kiss on your way down! I’ve always treated my heroes and peers with respect. I’ve respected everyone from George Jones, Waylon and Charlie Daniels who opened.
Then Tritt tended to soften his stance as the tweets continued.
I doubt very seriously if @Brantley Gilbert knows how disrespectful his stage setup is to those who open for him. However, I’m just saying. Regardless of circumstances, I love performing for an appreciative audience. The folks make the show for me. Nobody appreciates y’all more! Make no mistake, @BrantleyGilbert is a fellow Georgia boy. He deserves whatever place he has carved for himself in the biz …. All I’m saying is that his handlers/management should be a little more aware of how he comes off to those he works with. No disrespect. Everyone in this biz knows we can’t please everyone, in spite of our best intentions. However, non of us can fix what we don’t know is wrong.
About an hour later, Tritt added:
Know this. I’ve had openers from Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, Little Texas, Joe Diffie, Lynyrd Skynyrd & LeRoy Parnell over the years …. And I’ve always personally made sure that they had all the stage space and production that they needed to put on the best show possible.
No response has been seen from Brantley Gilbert, who has not posted a Tweet since May 30th. Gilbert at the moment is promoting his recently released Just As I Am album which has been surprising people with its sales numbers and debuted at #1 in country music.
Tritt’s snipping of Gilbert’s nose (or at least his crew and management’s) is reminiscent of last summer when artists began speaking out like never before about the direction of the genre and the lack of respect for older artists, arguably crowned by Zac Brown who called Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night” the “Worst Song Ever.”
In January, Travis Tritt also had some criticism of the direction of the country music business, telling Peter Cooper of The Tennessean:
There’s a mentality in the country music world of Nashville that says, “You don’t know anything, and we know how to do this.” It’s “We know what’s best for you: You get to the microphone, sing what we tell you to sing, play what we tell you to play, and you’ll be fine.” That scares people away from branching out and doing things that creatively are out of the box.
The music business establishment does not have a crystal ball. They do not know everything that they tell you they know. I’d say to any of the new people coming out, ‘Find the courage to step out and try it your way.’ Otherwise, what we get is a cookie-cutter mentality that isn’t good for artists who are having to portray themselves as something they aren’t, or that are capable of doing so much more but are being stifled.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read that comedian and country music performer Brad Paisley‘s new album due out August 26th was called Moonshine in the Truck and “sees Paisley adapting the modern technology of EDM and dubstep to the classic country formula.”
Just read this following quote from Brad Paisley, if you can somehow comprehend it and make it all the way through, while understanding this is supposed to be a country music artist, and one of the “good guys” at that.
“When you hear a banjo through stutter edit, it’s the coolest thing you ever heard,” Paisley told Billboard. “I have a song that’s a basic love song, it’s got a great groove, and I cut this guitar part that gets distorted when I turn the nob up. I would say to Luke [Wooten, the producer], ‘Oh, that should’ve been done 20 years ago, but they couldn’t.’”
You’re making crazy talk Brad that I don’t exactly understand, but I’ll take it as a sign that yet another one bites the dust, gives up the ghost, pulls a Benedict Arnold, and has migrated to the other team. Please turn in your cowboy hat on the way out the door.
This is the problem folks. You try to be a pragmatist. You try to find some common ground. Hey, Paisley is a likeable guy: funny, smart, and yes, a great guitar player. But everywhere you look, as someone who simply cares a little bit about the sound that traditionally is considered to be country music, just paying scant attention is an exercise in getting socked in the nuts while being told you’re a closed-minded idiot who just wants all music to sound like Hank Williams. “You know, music has to evolve, man! They said Waylon wasn’t country either! Patsy Cline was pop too!”
And then it gets even worse from Mr. Paisley if you can believe it.
“The rulebook’s gone, or was there ever one?” Brad says. “They try, but I don’t play by it.”
Oh come on Brad, you played by the rulebook for fifteen years, and now by going in some “EDM” direction, you’re conforming to the rules more than ever. Breaking the rules on Music Row these days means actually playing country music. That’ll get you 86′d from your major label deal and knocking on the doors of Americana faster than anything. It’s like what songwriter Luke Laird recently said to The New York Times: “Right now, to write a country rap, it’s almost predictable. It’s more of a risk to write a traditional country song.”
And possibly the worst commentary about all of this is that it’s not even shocking that Brad Paisley’s next album will be “EDM inspired.” Of course it will be. It’s predicable, and expected, and virtually required. And meanwhile the dissent that was being levied last summer by many worried artists about all this madness in country music has gone hush.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. I guess we should just wait for the bass to drop.
Garth! Hey buddy, it’s been a long time. Yeah, I know, we’ve seen each other in passing here and there. Some appearances at the award shows and such, and that whole thing out in Vegas and the recent box set release, though I’m not really sure if any of that counts. But hey, don’t worry, I’m not jumping on your butt or anything. You hung the moon for me for over a decade, and no matter what you decide to do from here on out, I’m forever in your debt for taking me to levels I thought were never possible, flying over stadiums on suspension wires and inspiring the Billy Ray Cyrus’s of the world notwithstanding. Hell I don’t even know that I can get worked up about all of that stuff anymore, or about your whole Chris Gaines gimmick, or for trying out for the Padres baseball team. I get it now. You were bored. You had climbed the mountain, conquered it, and were looking for the next challenge. Well let me tell you Garth, if you’re looking for a good challenge, I’ve got one. A big one. And this is one you might be able to accomplish. In fact, you might be the only one left on Earth who can.
Don’t think for a second that I blame you for taking a dozen-plus years off to spend time with your family, please. In fact I commend you for it. If we all spent a little more time putting family first, this probably would be a much more pleasant world to live in. Hell, don’t think the idea of dialing it all back doesn’t cross my mind every damn day, yet here I am working like a three-peckered billy goat. Do you know they say that country music is the biggest American music genre now? Ha, did you ever think we’d see that day Garth?
But this is the problem old friend. They’ve thrown the barn doors wide, and now everybody and their cousin is calling themselves country, and it’s gotten completely out of control. Be careful what you wish for, right Garth? I mean we’ve got DJ’s who don’t do anything but stand behind a couple of turntables pressing buttons now calling themselves country, rappers calling themselves country, hard rockers calling themselves country. It’s to the point now where I yearn for the days where Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift were the biggest pains in my ass. I look back now at the time when they said you were ruining the genre as the good ol’ days. By the way, do you have any idea if Waylon Jennings ever really said that line, “Garth Brooks did to country music what pantyhose did to finger $#@!ing?” Because for the life of me, I can’t verify it anywhere. And yeah, I know I just censored myself. But to some of us Garth, country music is still a family format.
I’m swallowing my pride here Garth. I need your help. Whether it was you and I pairing up in the in the 90′s to sell all those records that truly stimulated all these problems in the first place or not, the simple fact is you and I coming back together could maybe spell the end of it, or at least restoring some sort of balance to where if someone turns on their radio and tunes it to a country station, they might actually hear something that sounds like country.
I know there’s no need to pry you off you’re couch or anything; you’ve already got all the plans in the works for your big triumphant return, so this is not the direction my pleas are headed. What I want to implore you to do Garth is to keep it country. For the love of all things holy, keep it country. Please, as a favor to your old pal. Just be yourself. This is no longer about about trying to turn away the hordes who will call anything “country.” Truth is they won the battle years ago. That ship has sailed. This is about storming the gates ourselves, and taking back what is ours. You may be the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music, but as I’m sure you know Garth, country music is bigger than any one person (not to gloat, but you know…), and it is the responsibility of everyone, however big or small, to preserve and protect the country music institution, especially an artist like yourself whose benefited in the manner of untold riches from it.
They can say what they want about you Garth. There are old codgers and punks out there that will bad mouth your name no matter how the rules of the game change, and how much time redeems your past accomplishments. Actually, you want to put those critics to bed? Simply put out a true country album that is successful, and those people’s anger will turn to nostalgia and appreciation. I know deep inside of you is still that little boy from Oklahoma that grew up listening to Merle Haggard and George Jones; that appealed to the masses not by borrowing from other genres, but from finding and writing meaningful songs and singing them from the heart. Some focus on your wireless mic and your flawless, almost too-perfect presentation. But I focus in the fire in your eye, the aching moan in your voice that mimics a steel guitar the comes bursting through the mix to remind us all of the magic that country music can evoke when done right.
And you Garth, and only you, may still have the power at this late hour to remind the masses of that magic.
You did it once for the money Garth. Now, do it once for the music. Because we need it now more than ever.
Your once strained, but now rehabilitated and appreciative friend,
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