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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.”
“Believe in yourselves, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do.” –Petunia
From the dark, weary, poetic side of the roots world, where lost souls born into the wrong time period go to dwell and dispel their misery in song, comes Petunia & The Vipers—a complexly influenced country and roots band with a mutable sound whose only constant is a call back to the earliest times of popular music when people like Woody Guthrie and Django Reinheardt were contemporaries, and when rock & roll and country were just forming and their sounds were virtually interchangeable.
Hailing from high on the Western Hemisphere in Vancouver, British Columbia, Petunia & The Vipers shift from primitive country, to rockabilly, to jazz chording and Latin rhythms like they’re one in the same—like a Canadian version of Wayne “The Train” Hancock with a sound that is completely original while still being referential to the better days of music.
Their latest album Inside of You works almost like a guided tour through the gilded era of early American music influences. The first song “Runaway Freight Train Heart” is very much a rockabilly number with an up-tempo train beat driver, while the next song finds the listener transported to a smoky French cabaret, with Petunia’s vocal warble and exotic jazz chords challenging the ear. Next comes “Bicycle Song” which sees the rise of the disarming sounds of Hawaiian-influenced steel guitar stoking memories of warm breezes and a carefree disposition, while the very austere, dearthy, almost monotone “Holy Budge Winters” refers heavily to the depression-era rolling prose of Woody Guthrie, almost painful to listen to as it evokes memories of hard times, tragedy, and ultimate redemption. This wild swing of styles continues throughout the album, keeping the listener on their toes, engaged, and guessing where Petunia & The Vipers will head next.
Petunia’s voice is the foundation of this band. It has been described by some as an upside down yodel, but he can yodel right side up just as strongly, and as strong as anyone ever has. His level of control and unique cadence has to be universally regarded, whether you enjoy the sound it makes or not. Petunia very much fits the form of his music—a more artistic approach, purposely fey in places to ward off any potential interlopers just looking for a simple good time. There are certainly many moments on Inside of You that find your pulse racing and your feet tapping. In fact there’s a whole album’s worth of that material, and that can be the alpha and omega of your Petunia experience. But the Quebec native wants to get your gray matter hopping too, throwing you off his scent as soon as you think you’ve figured out his game, and giving you moments that make you think as much as feel.
The title track is one of the most stripped down moments of the album, featuring just an acoustic guitar and Petunia waxing poetically about the wayward path of man, and how the world has a tendency to hide the notion of who we truly are from ourselves. Though what Petunia says is nothing new, it nonetheless hits home in the hearth he builds for the message.
Some of these songs are just going to be too fey for some ears. “Holy Budge Waters” will be misunderstood by some who have not studied early American folk tradition, while Petunia’s strange tone on the chorus of “Primitive Love” will have certain people reaching to lower the volume, despite the production of the track being one of the best on the album. Inside of You concludes with some of its most country offerings, like the fiddle-driven “Gunned Down” doing fair justice to the dower, almost Gothic mood that many of Petunia & The Vipers’ songs reside in. The last two tracks once again take the rhythm in an upbeat direction, ending the album strongly and tied to the country and rockabilly roots.
Some bands and artists are so creative, their stories etch a tragedy of never finding the commercial recognition they deserve. Other artists must take their inspiration and interpret it to a more accessible audience. Petunia & The Vipers are one of these creative generators and innovators, and their music and moxy can be found defining the cutting edge of what is considered creative in country and roots today, while still keeping alive what made country music great in the past.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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If you like what you hear, also check out Petunia & The Vipers’ first album.
“Cricket Song” from Petunia & The Vipers’ first album.
Which one is your favorite, Jack White or The Black Keys?
For me the answer is simple…
All the silly talk about who was first and who ripped off who is moot when you bury your nose in the music catalog of the prototype of that predatory, aggressive, two-piece sound that blends blues, rockabilly, rock, country, surf, and a cavalcade of other obscure influences into the wild-eye concoction Dex Romweber has been throwing down for going on 30 years. One of the founding members of the ridiculously-influential two-piece band called the Flat Duo Jets that Jack White and many more of today’s most heralded artists hold in the highest of regards as the originators of the sound, Dex Romweber is still going strong with the Dex Romweber Duo that has released its latest album through Bloodshot Records called Images 13.
Today Dex Romweber is suited up with his sister Sara, and though we’re so used to artists of the crazy variety slowing down and losing heart as they grow older, nothing could be further from the case when it comes to this sibling duo. Dex is still howling and moaning like he always has, and playing his guitar with such abandon, he pulls off riffs most other guitar players only can land by accident. Meanwhile sister Sara is no slouch by any stretch, slapping the skins like she was trying out for a punk band full of 20-somethings. This is “watch your head!” type music. You push play, and hold on, from both the wild ride of a rambunctious attitude, and the dizzying styles they run through along the way.
Images 13 keeps listeners on their toes, opening up with the song “Roll On” that sounds like something you’d hear coming from the hottest clubs still catering to live music. From pre-punk influences like the silly and playful “So Sad About Us” (apparently an obscure, early cut from The Who), to the surf-influenced numbers like “Blackout!” and “Blue Surf”, to the blue-eyed soul of “We’ll Be Together Again” (by Eddie Cochran’s girlfriend Sharon Sheeley about Cochran’s death in a car accident that she and Gene Vincent survived), there’s just about no precinct of the musical palette safe from being tickled by Dex at some point. He can even get mysterious and dark in songs like “Prelude in ‘G’ Minor” and the 50′s Horror Comic aura and curious chords of “I Don’t Want to Listen”. They even go Avant-garde on the last track “Weird (Aurora Borealis)”, taken from TV’s Harry Lubin who wrote the music for The Outer Limits.
Half the time you don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s half the fun of it. Dex Romwever goes wherever his whimsy takes him, and with such a handsome tool chest of musical skills to call upon at any notice, and a music encyclopedia for a brain, he can. He’s like the American music version of silly putty. It’s the sound of America longing for a simpler past, and finding horror movies about haunted houses and flying saucers, sun-drenched beaches with dangerous undertows shaded through sepia tones, and Memphis sweat corroding the lacquer of catalog guitars. He even unplugs and slows it down for “One Sided Love Affair”—a number with the simplicity and universal sentiment indicative of a Hank Williams song.
It blows my mind any time I’m talking to a fellow music nerd and they give me a “Dex who?” But isn’t that always the way with the originators of a sound, especially ones whose influences are so varied as this one. Like J.J. Cale, like fellow Bloodshot Records artist Wayne “The Train” Hancock, they’re undefinable, yet wildly influential. And though not everyone will be familiar with their music, everyone has heard it in the music of others.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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This story has been updated.
The King of Juke Joint Swing, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, was involved in a major motorcycle accident on Saturday, April 26th, and is recovering in a hospital Intensive Care Unit. The performer and songwriter suffered a collapsed lung and a fractured elbow in the accident, and fears of catching pneumonia from the compromised respiratory condition have doctors taking every precaution to make sure the singer pulls through.
Hancock is known as an avid motorcycle rider, and his last album Ride released through Bloodshot Records features a motorcycle on the front cover, with the title track about taking a ride on a two-wheeler. Reports say Wayne was wearing a helmet at the time. His arm is also in a soft cast, and he is expected to be transferred from the ICU to a regular room in a few days. On Tuesday, Wayne had a blood transfusion for the blood lost when draining his lung.
The accident has forced Hancock to have to cancel upcoming shows May 2 at Floores Country Store in Helotes, TX, and May 3 at the Aardvark in Ft. Worth, TX, as well as all other remaining shows in May. For the moment, shows in June starting with Suquamish in Washington State are still on, but may be subject to change, depending on Wayne’s condition.
“His spirits are high and wishes he could be with Y’all,” was posted on Wayne’s Facebook page. “But things are out of his hands at the moment and must do as the Doctors tell him so as to make sure he CAN return to Y’all. He sends his Love and Regrets and asks for Prayers and Good Thoughts…”
The Train will roll on!
Cards and Letters can be sent to:
4937 Stuart Rd. #181
Denton, TX 76207
Please help him offset growing medical expenses and the additional financial woes of canceling two months of tour dates, by donating on PayPal to [email protected]
UPDATE (5-2-14): Yesterday (5-1) Wayne had surgery to help fix his fallen lung. They were able to remove Wayne’s ventilator and he is now breathing on his own. He continues to remain in the ICU unit and will into next week. But they hope to transfer him to a private room soon. “Wayne’s awake, Smilin’ and very alert singin’ to himself,” a post on his Facebook page said “…think he’s trying to make sure the pipes are still workin’”
Incidentally, yesterday was also Wayne’s birthday.
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For going on 40 years, Austin City Limits has been the one safe haven for substantive music performances on television, using the prestige of their program to lift up many artists worthy of a wider audience, but artists that are unfortunately not graced by the attention of mainstream radio. Originally established to be a visual companion to Jan Reed’s groundbreaking book Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock that set out to chronicle the formation and continued legacy of Austin’s music scene, and as a program that resides on public television, commercial concerns are an afterthought to Austin City Limits behind doing their duty to the local music community and shining a spotlight on undiscovered and deserving talent.
It is in this spirit that Austin City Limits has slated a scrappy young country music artist to appear during their latest season. Though you may have never heard of him, all that might change after he makes his Austin City Limits debut. His name is Eric Church, and despite only winning the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music awards for Album of the Year once, and having only sold roughly 3.5 million albums, the native North Carolinian has a promising future ahead of him, especially with ACL’s help.
“Since ‘Austin City Limits’ is a PBS program and their funding partially comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and from donations from viewers like you, they don’t have to worry as much about ratings and sponsors, and can reach down to give exposure to a deserving artist like Church,” says Eric Church representative Elizabeth Frankenfurter. “Though they have brought on big corporate sponsors over the last few years like Budweiser and Lexus, it’s clear with their selection of Church for the new season that corporate sponsorship concerns do not go into the selection of performing artists. If ‘Austin City Limits’ started selecting bigger names to showcase on their program, artists like Eric Church would be locked out of the opportunity to be presented to thousands of appreciative and attentive music fans that otherwise may not know about him.”
Eric Church joins other acts like Dave Matthews Band, Cheap Trick, Pearl Jam, Tim McGraw, and Radiohead that were thrusted into the public spotlight because of their Austin City Limits opportunity. “It’s such an honor for me to play on the same stage that Texas legends such as Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Wayne “The Train” Hancock have played,” a press release quoted Eric Church as saying, but a check of the Austin City Limits archive shows that despite their important status to Austin music, neither Ray Wylie Hubbard nor Wayne Hancock have been awarded their own Austin City Limits show like Eric Church.
Eric’s latest album release is called The Outsiders—a testament to his underdog status in the industry. Hopefully his Austin City Limits appearance puts this “outsider” on the inside track to success in country music.
Tuesday, February 18th was the inaugural Ameripolitan Music Awards at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Austin, TX. To see a complete list of winners, a play by play account of the night, and more pictures, please check out the 2014 Ameripolitan Awards LIVE Blog.
Below are some photographs of the night from photographer C. C. Ekström of the excellent website Almost Out Of Gas. You can also see the video presentation (without the full narration) that was presented at different times during the event below.
Apologies to artists that attended that were not featured, including Peewee Moore, Eric Strickland, Dallas Moore, and others. Because of the breakneck nature of the event, we did the best we could, but didn’t have time to catch up with everyone.
Welcome to Saving Country Music’s LIVE blog of the inaugural Ameripolitan Awards transpiring at the Wyndham Garden Hotel and Woodward Conference Center in Austin, TX! The event is completely sold out (in fact, oversold I’m being told), and there will be no live stream or audio broadcast of the event. So I’ll be feverishly working to bring you photos and keep you up-to-date on winners, and do my best to put you in the spirit of the moment with the idea that music is best when it’s shared.
Please feel free to follow along and keep your refresh button handy. I’ll be flying by the seat of my pants, so be patient if updates take some time to populate, and feel free to pipe up below in the comments section with your own thoughts or observances.
Announcer: Dallas Wayne
Presenters and Performers Include: James Hand, Dawn Sears, Whitey Morgan, Rosie Flores, Ray Benson, James Intveld, Wayne Hancock, Elizabeth Cook, Johnny Bush, W.S. Holland, Heybale, Roger Alan Wade, and Johnny Knoxville.
- Western Swing Female – Dawn Sears
- Western Swing Group – Asleep At The Wheel
- Western Swing Male – Ray Benson
- Honky Tonk Group – Heybale
- Honky Tonk Male – Wayne Hancock
- Honky Tonk Female – Rosie Flores
- Ralph Mooney Musician’s Award – Earl Poole Ball
- Venue Award – The Broken Spoke
- Festival Award – Muddy Roots
- Rockabilly Band – Reverend Horton Heat
- Rockabilly Female – Rosie Flores
- Rockabilly Male – Big Sandy
- DJ Award – Dallas Wayne
- Outlaw Female – Elizabeth Cook
- Outlaw Group – Whitey Morgan & The 78′s
- Outlaw Male – Unknown Hinson
- Master Award – Ray Price
- Founder of the Sound – Johnny Bush
- Founder of the Sound – W.S. Fluke Holland
11: 51 - So overall, it was an amazing night, amazing production, top-notch. As some people have pointed out, all the people who performed were also the winners. My stupid little blog could in no way do the night justice. In the coming days I might write a proper review, include some of the quotes and stories from the stage (I do have audio of the whole thing, at least), But by golly, they pulled off, and can’t grade it any less than two guns up. Congratulations to Dale Watson and the whole Ameripolitan team.
11:46 - Thanks everyone for reading! I’m going to compose some final thoughts, recap the winners, and call it a night…
11:45 - That’s it folks! Mojo Nixon screams “Ameripolitan lives!” as the Ameripolitan band plays Dale Watson off the stage.
11:43 - Dale Watson is quite drunk. This is about a 7-minute version of “Old Farts” as he pours his heart out.
11:42 - Elizabeth Cook, Dale Watson, and Ray Benson playing “T For Texas”.
11:40 - Elizabeth Cook accepting her Ameripolitan Award.
11:38 - Dale Watson gives another impassioned speech about Blake Shelton and the “Old Farts & Jackasses” incident before launching into “Old Fart”.
11:33 – Whitey Morgan performing, and accepting his Outlaw award.
11:28 - Elizabeth Cook now on stage singing “T For Texas”.
11:24 - Johnny Knoxville and Ray Benson present the Ameripolitan Outlaw Female Award to Elizabeth Cook. “We are creating our own fucking game, so don’t hate, participate,” says Elizabeth in between making jokes about the “other” things she can do with the award.
11:18 - Chris and Taylor Malpass present the Ameripolitan Outlaw Male Award to Unknown Hinson. Unfortunately Unknown could not make it to accept the award because of a family emergency.
11:17 - Luther Jackson and Izzy Cox present the Ameripolitan Outlaw Group Award to Whitey Morgan & The 78′s.
11:10 - Ahead of the last group of awards for Outlaw, Whitey Morgan take the stage and perform “Bad News.”
11:09 - Dallas Wayne accepting his Ameripolitan DJ Award.
11:06 - The Ameripolitan DJ Award presented by Steve Wertiemer and Reggie Dobson goes to Sirius XM DJ Dallas Wayne.
11:04 - Dale Watson, W.S. Holland, and Jim Heath all playing on stage together.
10:57 - The Reverend Horton Heat (or Jim Heath), Dale Watson, and W.S. Holland on the stage playing “Blue Suede Shoes,” …and now they are playing “Ring of Fire,” a song W.S. played on originally.
10:54 - Big Sandy from earlier accepting his award for rockabilly male.
10:52 - Dale Watson sets the record straight that W.S. never smoked or drank like he was portrayed in the movie “Walk The Line”.
10:50 - W.S. “Fluke” Holland just told the best story of the awards about a Cadillac car and Carl Perkins. I’ll have to transcribe it later. Amazing. Here he is accepting his award.
10:42 - Everyone standing and clapping as Fluke makes his way to the stage. For those of you that don’t know, he played drums for Johnny Cash forever. “I didn’t even know people knew I was there.”
10:40 - “Founder of the Sound Award” is presented to drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland.
10:37 - The Reverend Horton Heat receiving his Ameripolitan award earlier.
10:35 - Big Sandy: “This means a whole lot more coming from two people who don’t know who the hell I am.” It was presented Woody Adkins and Elizabeth Cook. Elizabeth Cook is giving Mojo Nixon a run for his money as the craziest, most overcussing person tonight.
10:32 - The Ameripolitan Award for Rockabilly Male goes to Big Sandy.
10:30 - Rosie Flores: “Holy shit!” “It’s almost like we’re on this mission to keep women alive in rockabilly.”
10:28 - Roger Alan Wade and Johnny Knoxville present the Ameripolitan Rockabilly Female award to Rosie Flores. The crowd erupts again. Rosie is clearly a crowd favorite.
10:26 - The Reverend Horton Heat wins the Ameripolitan Rockabilly Group Award.
10:24 - Brett and Silvia Neal comes out to present the Rockabilly Group Award. Dale comes out on stage and says it was 99% Brett and Silvia that made Ameripolitan happen, and 1% him.
10:21 - Tonya Watts and Johnny Knoxville presenting the Ameripolitan Festival Award.
10:19 - Ameripolitan Award winner Rosie Flores on the stage earlier.
10:17 - Big Sandy gets up to perform after a video presentation of the importance of rockabilly music.
10:11 - The Ameripolitan Festival Award presented by Tonya Watts and Johnny Knoxville goes to The Muddy Roots Festival.
10:08 - Ralph Mooney’s wife and daughter presenting the Ralph Mooney Award for Musicians.
10:05 - Ameripolitan DJ nominee Big ‘G’ and his wife during the intermission.
10:04 - Mojo Nixon presents “The Chick with the Pick!” Rosie Flores to the stage for a performance.
10:00 - Cornell Hurd presenting the “Founder of the Sound” Award to Johnny Bush earlier.
9:58 - The Ameripolitan Venue Award goes to The Broken Spoke, Austin, TX.
9:53 - Forgot to mention earlier, Dale Watson had delivered the Ameripolitan “Master Award” to Ray Price before he passed away. Cool story.
9:51 – James Intveld comes out to perform ahead of the upcoming Rockabilly Awards.
9:49 - Cindy Cashdollar wins the Ralph Mooney Ameripolitan Award for Musicians. She is not on site (she had a gig in California), so a video of her accepting the award plays.
9:47 - We are back from intermission. They are getting ready to present the Ameripolitan Ralph Mooney Award for Musician. It is being presented by Mrs. Ralph Mooney.
9:45 - Rosie Flores accepting her Honky Tonk Female Award earlier. That is Amber Rockwell in the shot as well who has been walking the awards to the stage.
9:40 - The amount of stars around this place is stupid. I was shaking hands with Bobby Flores, then bumped into Redd Volkaert, and then almost got ran over by Elizabeth Cook. Let me tell you folks, Elizabeth is a little firecracker.
9:32 - Earlier when Johnny Knoxville and Roger Alan Wade were presenting, they made fun of Dale’s dud’s as being made out of their “Grandmother’s curtains” stimulating Dale to come out and confront them on stage. They also announced the female Honky Tonk Award winner was Blake Shelton, which stimulated a chorus of boos and laughs (it was really Rosie Flores.
9:25 - While I have the time, I just want to say here that this thing could not be more professional. Every last detail was thought through. The video presentations, the house bands playing the presenters on and off stage. It’s quite the production, with only a few very very minor glitches. The room is positively packed. This venue could have been twice as big, and it would still be too small. They will have to at least double the size next year.
9:21 - We go to a 15 minute “intermission” about 20 minutes late. This will give me time to catch up on pictures and some other stuff. Thanks for reading y’all!
9:20 - Johnny Bush: “I think Willie Nelson has recorded ‘Whiskey River’ about 29 times. He asked me, ‘Do you think I’ll ever get it right?’ I said, ‘I hope not.’
9:16 - Ameripolitan winner Wayne “The Train” Hancock performing earlier. (with Zach Sweeny, whose dad is following out there in Internet land)
9:15 - Standing ovation for Johnny Bush. During his acceptance speech, “My doctors are here. My preacher’s here, just in case. And my lawyer would be here, but he’s in jail.” Then Johnny Bush takes the stage to play “Whiskey River.”
9:11 - Two-time Ameripolitan winner Ray Benson performing earlier.
9:08 – Cornell Hurd presents the “Founder of the Sound” Award to Johnny Bush. Cornell gives an excellent, touching speech. “They called him the country Caruso.”
9:04 - Ameripolitan winner Dawn Sears performing earlier.
9:02 - Wayne simply says, “Gosh, I wasn’t expecting this. Thank you.” Mojo Nixon says, “Give it up for the loquacious Wayne Hancock!” Then Heybale takes the stage.
9:00 - The Ameripolitan Honky Tonk Male Award goes to Wayne “The Train” Hancock.
8:55 - Johnny Knoxville and Roger Alan Wade present the Ameripolitan Award for Honky Tonk Female to Rosie Flores.
8:54 - Johnny Bush accepting Ray Price’s “Master Award”.
8:53 - The Ameripolitan Award for Honky Tonk Band goes to Heybale.
8:51 – Wayne Hancock gets a standing ovation.
8:46 - Another well-produced video presentation ahead of the presentation of the honky tonk awards, and then Wayne “The Train” Hancock comes out to perform “Home With My Baby.”
8:45 - Shout out to Rockabilly Deluxe Magazine that just stopped by to say hi.
8:43 - Ray Benson performs “Miles and Miles of Texas”. Dale Watson helped him put his guitar on and Ray says, “The best dressed roadie in the business!”
8:40 - A better picture of Dale Watson’s duds, and the pantless Mojo Nixon. Mojo says, “This things going pretty good, and everyone said Mojo was going to fuck it up!”
8:36 - Ameripolitan Award for Western Swing Male goes to Ray Benson. Presented by Big Sandy and Abbey Road from Luckenbach.
8:35 - Dawn Sears gets very emotional on stage. “This is my very first award. Thank you.”
8:33 – The Ameripolitan Award for Western Swing Female goes to Dawn Sears!
8:32 - Dale Watson at the introduction, and the Ameripolitan band.
8:31 - Ray Benson and other members of Asleep At The Wheel on stage accepting the award. “44 years with this band, 100 members, half the members of this audience, I think.”
8:30 - The Ameripolitan Western Swing Group of the Year is Asleep At The Wheel!
8:25 - Have tons of photos coming up folks! Stuff is happening so fast, just trying to keep up!
8:23 - In between live presentations are video taped presentations. This is very slick. Mojo Nixion, “They told me not to drink on stage. Fuck it!” And Dawn Sears takes the stage.
8:21 - Johnny Bush remembers his time in the Cherokee Cowboys. “You we’re like an uncle to me,” Johnny recalls saying to Ray. Ray responded “You’re no kin to me!” (crowd laughs)
8:19 - Ray Price is awarded the Master Award. Johnny Bush accepts the award for Ray to a standing ovation.
8:17 - The video presentation continues, with the explanation of how Ameripolitan got started. Ray Price’s letter he wrote to Blake Shelton after the “Old Farts & Jackasses” episode was read aloud, and the crowd erupts.
8:15 - James Hand gets a standing ovation from the Ameripolitan crowd. By the way, I forgot to mention, Mojo Nixon has no pants on (but boxers, luckily).
8:13 - Mojo Nixon hands it off to James Hand who performers “In The Corner, At My Table, By the Jukebox.”
8:12 - Some more photos of artists filing in: Tonya Watts, and Whitey Morgan with Elizabeth Cook.
8:08 - Dale hands it over to Mojo Nixon who screams into the microphone, “I’m hotter than two foxes fucking in a forest fire!” Then a video presentation starts to play on the screens flanking the stage.
8:07 - “This is your music, this is your artists, this is your genre!” — Dale Watson
8:02 - The Ameripolitan Awards have started! Dale Watson is welcoming everyone, and introducing the band.
7:58 - The show is scheduled to start off with an explanation of what Ameripolitan is, and a performance by James Hand.
7:56 - Heads up, Unknown Hinson did NOT make it. But Elizabeth Cook did!
7:55 - Have a bunch more photos coming folks! Everywhere I turn there’s a hand to shake. I tell people I’m working and they don’t believe me.
7:45 - Some various choices for Ameripolitan garb. Just saw Hillbilly Casino pass by, and radio personality Big G.
7:36 - James “Slim” Hand taking advantage of the Ameripolitan photo op.
7:30 – Dale Watson a while ago double checking on everything before getting dudded up. Notice the “Staff” on the back of his shirt.
7:22 - The house band tonight will be Redd Volkaert – Guitar, Jason Roberts – Fiddle, Chris Crepps – Bass, Mike Bernal – Drums, Earl Poole Ball – Piano, Don Pawlak – Pedal Steel.
7:18 - On the front tables there is “Table Pop Art” of famous country music greats done by Harmony High School Art Class #3 from Big Sandy, TX.
7:15 - Here’s some pictures of the Lake Austin Room at the hotel where the festivities will transpire. At the very front are circular tables for all of the nominees and big donors, then smaller, rectangular tables for other nominees and donors, and then rows of chairs for everyone else.
7:07 - Here’s some pictures of where the Ameripolitan Awards are transpiring for the people who like a little more perspective. I’ve been wondering why they decided to do it hare as opposed to a more traditional venue, but tthe lobby is filled with pictures of Austin musicians, guitars, etc. and is known for supporting functions like this. We’re still 50 minutes or so from the start of the presentation, so posts may be sparse until the start of the awards.
7:05 - Walked into the door of the hotel, and the star power just in the lobby was incredible: Reverend Horton Heat, Dale Watson, Eric Strickland, Wayne Hancock, Redd Volkaert, James Hand, and the list goes on. A lot of talent has trekked here for tonight. I also have met journalists from as far as Italy who are here to cover the event. I will be posting pictures all night, but because of the poor light in here, the quality may not be the best. However, I have Charlie from Almost Out Of Gas here taking better photos that will be posted after the event.
7:00 - Alright folks, I’m going to make this disclaimer real quick, and then there’s going to be no more word about this the rest of the night: Per the numerous emails and comments elsewhere, I am very aware that some folks have issues with Ameripolitan. I have issues with Ameripolitan. However this is their night, Dale and many others have worked very hard on this, and in the end the idea is to support music. There’s a lot of great artists that will be honored and showcased tonight, so let’s focus on the music and the artists and be thankful for the fellowship.
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr. falls in line with the other country artists covered in Saving Country Music “10 Badass Moments” series by being a rough and tumble character both on and off the stage, but also in showing great character by giving back and using his famous name for good.
Here’s 10 Badass Moments from Shelton Hank Williams III, or Hank3.
1. Playing Charity Concerts for Homes For Our Troops
When you heard that The Marines had been called to the Hank3 concert at The Meridian in Houston, TX in March of 2010, you could only expect the worst. After all, the son of Hank has been known to throw some pretty rowdy shows. But the occasion that called for a military dispatch including a Marine Color Guard was not an unruly crowd. It was meant to honor Hank3 for donating all the proceeds from the concert to the charity Homes For Our Troops that provides housing to wounded veterans. And this wouldn’t be the last time. Hank3 has also done other charity shows for Homes For Our Troops, as well as animal rescue organizations (see below).
Pretty cool moment before The Meridian show:
2. Playing For 5 Straight Hours at The Valarium in Knoxville
Hank3 is known for his long, sometimes 3-hour+ shows with only a 5 to 10 minute break between his country and his punk/metal lineups, but this particular set was one for the record books.
Exactly what happened at The Valarium in Knoxville, TN on July 15th, 2009 that stimulated Hank3′s marathon, 5-hour set depends on who you talk to. But when Hank’s manager, assistant manager, and five other people were arrested for “disorderly conduct,” Hank3 felt the best way to protest the injustice was by playing one of the longest sets in the history of country music. Without any break, Hank3 held forth with his “Damn Band” staring at 10:00 PM Wednesday night, and the music didn’t stop until almost 3 AM Thursday morning. When Hank3 ran out of material with his band, he switched to an acoustic show and kept on going.
The show went so long, an after party at the adjacent Cider House featuring the local band J.C. and the Dirty Smokers didn’t start until 2 AM, and nobody was there. “Basically, I said, ‘Since we’re already set up and already have a stage, we might as well work on a couple of originals,” Dirty Smokers frontman J.C. Haun said at the time. “So we ended up having a rehearsal, basically.”
And as if Hank3 hadn’t already done enough, he called Valarium owner Gary Mitchell after the show to apologize for not playing the Assjack metal portion of the show. “He felt like he’d stiffed his hardcore fans,” Mitchell told the Metro Pulse.
3. Playing Charity Concerts for Animal Rescue
For years Hank3 has been playing charity concerts to benefit animal shelters in his home of middle Tennessee. “We are thrilled that Hank3 would support our mission,” says Kat Hitchcock, who has worked with numerous animal shelters in the area. “He doesn’t just support it, he lives it. He is a genuine advocate for animal welfare. We are extremely fortunate. We can’t thank him enough.”
The 4th show Hank3 played to benefit Happy Tails Humane in Franklin, TN was on August 3rd, 2012 at the Marathon Music Works in Nashville, and raised a whopping $18,000 for the organization. A DVD was also made of the event, and you can watch the entire footage of the concert below:
4. Taking In Stray / Abandoned Animals
Beyond throwing benefit concerts over the years for animal rescue, Hank3 has been known to pull his tour bus over to check on stray animals, and take them in if the proper owner can’t be found, or use his famous name to help find the furry friends a new home. Hank3 goes beyond the call for animals, and over the years it has become his pet issue (arf arf). Check out this PSA he made a couple of years back.
5. The “Fuck Curb” Campaign
Hank3′s entire 14-year career with Curb Records was filled with turmoil. The first major conflict arose over an album called This Ain’t Country. Hank3 turned it into Curb, just to have Mike Curb deem it was not fit for release. Curb shelved the album, and then released it after Shelton left the label and after he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation for the number of releases. It was a way for Curb to squeeze another album out of Hank3′s contract.
Hank3′s 3rd album Thrown Out of the Bar was slated to be released in late 2004, but Curb refused to issue it. This prompted Hank3 to start a “Fuck Curb” campaign that included T-Shirts, stickers, and the words “Fuck Curb” written prominently on Hank3′s guitar. Hank3 also took Curb to court, and like so many other artists with Mike Curb grievances, the court found in favor of Hank3 and made Curb issue the album that was later reworked into the album Straight to Hell. Curb also delayed the release of Hank3′s 4th album Damn Right, Rebel Proud for undetermined reasons, and since Hank had signed a non-defamation clause to his contract to get Straight to Hell released, he couldn’t even speak out against Curb’s actions.
At the time Hank3 was seen as a foul-mouthed yob. But since then, public issues arising with Curb Records and many of its artists, especially Tim McGraw, shows that Hank3 was ahead of his time, and that his salty language was warranted.
6. Including Three Songs by Wayne “The Train” Hancock On His First Record
On Hank3′s first solo record Risin’ Outlaw from 1999, he included 3 songs from one of his early mentors and heroes, Texas singer-songwriter and the King of Juke Joint Swing, Wayne “The Train” Hancock. By including “87 Southbound,” “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs,” and “Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone,” it introduced Wayne Hancock to a whole new generation, and a whole new segment of fans. It also would help Wayne with what songwriters call “mailbox money”—royalties from song credits—for years to come.
7. Calling Out Kid Rock
In his song “Not Everybody Likes Us” from the album Straight to Hell, Hank3 calls out Kid Rock, saying:And just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so goddamn you’re fuckin’ dumb.
The anger was stimulated when Hank3′s father, Hank William Jr., began to refer to Kid Rock as his “Rebel Son” around 2002. At the time, Kid Rock and Hank Jr. were collaborating together on music. The “Rebel Son” talk stimulated rumors that Kid Rock truly was another son of Hank Jr., and Hank3 got tired of answering the rumors. It all boiled over one night at a show in Kid Rock’s home of Detroit when Kid Rock and his fling at the time Pamela Anderson tried to board Hank3′s bus to patch things up between Hank3 and Hank Jr.
Hank3 told Blender Magazine in 2006:
…he kept trying to come on the bus—you know, him and Pam [Anderson] and all that shit —and I said, “Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,” and then he finally gets his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father and I’m like, “All right, you just crossed the line motherfucker.” And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: “No, he’s not my fucking brother…
8. Recording The Album Straight to Hell DIY Style
Considered Hank3′s opus, Straight to Hell released in February of 2006 was recorded on a $400 consumer-grade Korg D-1600 machine in Hank3′s steel guitar player’s house. It was the first true DIY recording made outside of the conventional studio setting to ever be released through a country music major label and the Country Music Association. It was also the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker.
The point was not just for Hank3 to gain control of his own music, but to inspire a generation of new artists to do the same thing, to see that they didn’t need to sign big deals and have lots of money to make and release music. And that’s exactly what it did.
9. Standing Up to the Grand Ole Opry
For years Hank3 has been trying to get The Grand Ole Opry to show respects to his grandfather by reinstating him into the institution he loved so dearly. Hank Williams was kicked out of the Opry for drunkenness and missing rehearsals with the idea that once he sobered up, he could be reinstated. Unfortunately Hank Williams never got that opportunity. He died on New Years Day, 1953 as an ostracized member of the institution he helped bring to prominence. All Hank3 is asking is a symbolic gesture be made to the legacy of Hank Williams by reinstating him to the Grand Ole Opry, also known as Reinstate Hank. The issue has also come to symbolize the fight to keep the purity of The Grand Ole Opry institution alive.
10. Shaking Every Hand And Signing Every Album After Shows
This may not sound like some altruistic task for some artists whose shows stretch to top 75 attendees, but when you’re constantly selling out concerts with hundreds of tickets sold, and every one of those people wants to meet you, this simple gesture has become one of Hank3 signature symbols of showing how he’s willing to go the extra mile for his fans, sometimes patiently spending many hours after two and three hour performances to shake hands, sign autographs, and take pictures.
BONUS – 11. Playing Bass for Phil Anselmo’s Superjoint Ritual
Showing that the show didn’t need to be all about him, while Hank3 was fighting with Curb Records and trying to get his album This Ain’t Country released, he took his friend Phil Anselmo—the former lead singer of Pantera—up on the offer to join his band Superjoint Ritual on bass. Between 2002 and 2004, Hank3 could be seen banging his head on stage as a side man in concerts across the country. When Superjoint Ritual shut down around 2004 and Hank3 returned to the country world and released the album Straight to Hell, he showed legions of punk and heavy metal fans the virtues of traditional country music and created many country music converts.
“I always tell people that one day my book will be entitled “Five Feet From Stardom.” – Zachary Sweeny
The fate of the sideman in music is one of always playing second fiddle to the big star. But one of the things we love about the other players in a country band is they generally don’t care. Though many times they do an equal share, if not the majority of the heavy lifting for the music, they’re just fine blending into the background.
My first encounter with the young, fresh-faced Zach Sweeny was when he was playing with Lucky Tubb at a Halloween show last year at Johnny B’s in Medford, OR. He was on loan from Wayne Hancock’s band and was setting the place on fire. It was one of those moments where you have to tap your neighbor on the shoulder and ask, “Is that kid for real?” As effortless as breath, Zach was raising the ghost of hollow body guitar god Hank Garland, while waylaying the wild crowd decked in their Halloween regalia.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock’s band over the years has been like its own Hall of Fame/proving ground for remarkable guitar players. From the incomparable Eddie Biebel, to James Hunnicutt, to Wyatt Maxwell (of Mad Max & The Wild Ones), Wayne has had some of the best in the business at his side. Zach Sweeny gives up nothing to these players and has become one of the most ubiquitous sidemen in underground country, appearing on albums from Danny Kay and the Nightlifers, working in the studio with Jimbo Mathus, and wowing crowds coast to coast as the anchor of Wayne Hancock’s band.
How old are you?
I was born January 31, 1990. So that makes me twenty three years old.
Where are you from?
Beltsville, Maryland. It’s between Baltimore and Washington DC. It was a great place to grow up playing music because I could play in Washington D.C., Baltimore and northern Virginia. I had lots of opportunities to play and not overexpose my self too much.
Where do you live now?
Right now I live with Wayne Hancock in Denton, Texas. It’s about forty miles north of Dallas.
Who are the current artists or bands that you play with?
At this time I am just playing with Wayne Hancock. He goes out on the road like clockwork two weeks on and two weeks off. I really enjoy touring with him. He lets me shine on every song all night long. It’s a great gig for developing your chops as a soloist and I love every minute of it.
Who are artists or bands that you used to play with?
I have been in so many bands over the years I could not possibly name them all but I’ll name some that were important to me. One band is Danny Kay and the Nightlifers. I’ve played on two of his records Heading Home and Crazy Lonesome Blue. Another band is Retro Deluxe with my friend Bobby Joe Owens. We recorded a record called Watermelon Tea down in Mississippi with Jimbo Mathus from the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I played on Bobby Joe’s solo record Please Rise—Jimbo was also a part of that project as well. Other bands I have played with but have never recorded with are Glenn Moomau and the Blue Flames, who have a standing gig every Friday at Berthas Mussels in Fells Point in Baltimore. Brook Yoder is a really good singer, a traditional Rockabilly band called the Garnet Hearts, and countless bar bands and last minute call when someone cancelled at the last minute.
How did you get starting playing with Wayne Hancock and Lucky Tubb?
Up until a few years ago I only played mostly with older musicians and I made a conscious decision to find younger bands to play with. So I joined Danny Kay and the Nightlifers and The Garnet Hearts. On a trip to Fayetteville, North Carolina with Danny Kay, I met a singer songwriter named Ronnie Hymes. He sat in on a few songs that night and we exchanged business cards. A few months later in July he contacted me and asked if he could pass my number on to Lucky Tubb because he had a tour coming up and his steel player and guitarist backed out at the last minute. I said, “That would be fine” thinking nothing would come from it. About 5 hours later, Lucky called me and asked me if I could do the tour and the first stop was in Eureka Springs, Arkansas at Chelsea’s. All I had to do was get there. Lucky offered me a bus ticket but I didn’t think Greyhound would get me there on time so I drove out in my car having no idea how this gig would go.
At Chelsea’s in Eureka Springs I met a woman named Gina Gallina who happened to be Wayne Hancock’s wife. She filmed me on her phone during the show and sent a video to Wayne. Gina offered to let me leave my car at her house while I was on tour with Lucky. While I was still on the same tour with Lucky, Wayne called me up and said he needed a guitarist pronto, I told him when I finished out the tour with Lucky I would meet him in NC the next day to start the tour with him. Wayne offered me a job after the tour so I took it, but for a few tours I did double duty with Lucky and Wayne. Lucky and I parted very amicably and will play together in the future most likely. That being said I hope to be with Wayne for a long time. I am very proud to be in his band and grateful to Ronnie and Gina for giving me great opportunities.
Who are your primary guitar influences?
I have a lot of guitar influences but one of my favorite players is Hank Garland. I like his tone and note choice. He also was a very in demand session musicians which is what I want to do. Another guitarist that I admire is George Barns. Unlike a lot of people my age, I grew up liking live music and playing in bar bands and I met some very talented musicians in my own area growing up that showed me how to be a well rounded musician. Two of my favorites are guitarist Rusty Bogart and Chick Hall Jr. They are just great guitarists that can play almost any kind of music. Since I’ve been in Wayne Hancock’s band, I have really been studying Paul Skelton and Dave Biller’s playing trying to get all of their nuances, phasing and tones. They are both fabulous players. I also like Junior Brown’s playing a lot.
Who are your primary influences in music in general?
My primary non-guitar influence is defiantly Oscar Peterson. What an amazing musician. Another non-guitar influence is Nat King Cole; he had a very unique soloing style especially in his early trio recordings that was personal and articulate.
Do you ever see yourself fronting your own band, or do you consider yourself a pure sideman?
I hope to be part of a band one day where everyone is on the same page musically, business wise and has the time and energy to put into something special. If that’s a sideman or front man will depend on how my life turns out. That being said I always tell people that one day my book will be entitled “Five Feet From Stardom.”
Is it true you never drink or smoke?
I don’t drink alcohol or smoke anything. It really is just a personal choice of mine I made a long time ago. I always want to play my best for people. I started playing bar gigs at around 13 or 14 and people would always try to get me to drink with them and I never did, I just never wanted to. People used to say to me “you know that you’ll be 21 one day” or “one beer won’t kill you.” I think I just got tired of sorority chicks and frat boys yelling “Free Bird” and “Mustang Sally” after the band had already played them. Another reason is I have seen what that lifestyle does to people on all sides of the equation, so I keep it out of my life.
When did you start playing guitar, and who introduced you to playing music?
I first started playing bass guitar at age 8. My dad played in bands in high school as a bassist. Before I was born my mother gave him a guitar. Growing up I did not have to ask my parents to buy me an instrument; I was simply able go and get it out of the case when I showed an interest in music. My dad introduced me to music; he was always bringing home new music and learning songs by ear just because he wanted to when I was younger. My father taught me to figure songs out by ear, and sometimes he would show me how a song went, but mostly he would nicely tell me that I was close but not quite right yet. This was great for me, but at the time I didn’t realize it. I would get frustrated sometimes but he never got frustrated with me.
My mother and father really fed my brother and I’s musical interests; my brother plays classical guitar, piano and is a good drummer. When I was twelve my mom found a guitar teacher for me and we got along really well. His name is Bruce Casteel he is a very dedicated musician and a great teacher, I studied with him for a long time. He taught me how to apply what I had learned by ear to music theory and helped me build a classical repertoire. Bruce also taught me to read music and to Travis pick. Around the same time I started attending open mic nights. This taught me to improvise and learn how to play well with other musicians. A few years later I started getting calls for gigs and I started running my own open mics, at one point in time I was running four open mics a week and playing gigs the other nights. I did this until I started going on the road full time.
What type of guitars do you play, through what amp?
My favorite guitar to play is a 1993 Gibson ES-165 Herb Ellis. I like the tone and feel of it. I can do anything I hear in my head with this guitar. My second guitar is a Gretsch 6120. I bought this guitar when I was seventeen years old. It was my favorite till I bought the Gibson but it is a great guitar nonetheless. My other guitar is a Dean Palomino, I bought this guitar so I could have a nice hollow body guitar that I could put on an airplane if need be. My main amplifier is a 1971 Fender twin reverb. I bought it in Austin after my second tour with Wayne because I wanted a nicer amp to tour with. My backup amplifier is a Reverend King Snake amp. I have had it since I was fifteen. I don’t like to use pedals. I prefer to get all my sounds by picking technique and manipulating the knobs on both the guitar and amp. But if I need to use an effect pedal to get the right sound I am not against it, I just prefer to play straight into the amplifier.
Where would you like to see yourself in 20 years?
Hopefully in twenty years I’ll be playing music for a living. Ideally I would be a studio musician playing on lots different kinds of projects in all genres of music, but I love going out on the road. I would be happy if I could do both studio and live work equally for the rest of my life.
The underground country movement initially formed around the mid 90′s not because somebody launched a website or a record label. It wasn’t because of a festival or because someone came up with a special name for a new genre. It wasn’t because some personality who was bestowed a famous name took the reigns and began promoting music. The strength, the support, and the fervor that went into forming underground country and the bonds and infrastructure that is still around today came from the songs artists were writing, recording, and performing; songs that spoke very deep to the hearts of hungry listeners. In the end, all leadership and must come from the music. A good song will solve its own problems. Like water, it will eventually find a path to thirsty ears, and funnel support to the artist and infrastructure that surrounds it.
This isn’t necessarily a list of the greatest underground country songs, or even the most influential. It is simply 12 songs that were so good, they helped create something where there was nothing before.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Juke Joint Jumpin’”
Wayne Hancock is one of the fathers of underground country, and he’s also the King of Juke Joint Swing, so it’s only appropriate to include one of his signature songs here. The very first song on his very first album Thunderstorms & Neon Signs from 1995, it made listeners wonder if they were hearing the ghost of Hank Williams. Later Hancock would perform the song as a duet with Hank Williams III.
Hank Williams III – “Not Everybody Likes Us”
Hank3 has probably written better songs, but not that speak to the spirit of underground country so well. “Not everybody like us, but we drive some folks wild” epitomizes the philosophy behind the country music underground—that it doesn’t matter if the masses like your music, only if you and your friends do. Add on top of that a big dig at country radio, and “Not Everybody Likes Us” has become a rallying cry of underground country music.
.357 String Band/ Jayke Orvis – “Raise The Moon”
This song is so good, it has been released twice, been played regularly by three different bands, and still is not tired. Written by Jayke Orvis, “Raise The Moon” originally appeared on the .357 String Band’s first album Ghost Town in 2006. When Jayke Orvis left .357 for a solo career and a spot in the Goddamn Gallows, the song appeared on the Gallows’ album 7 Devils. 7 years later and the song still remains a staple of Jayke’s live show, and a defining sound of underground country.
The Boomswagglers – “Run You Down”
Authenticity is such an unattainable myth in modern music these days that it is nearly impossible to find a truly original and untainted sentiment. But that is what The Boomswagglers serve up with “Run You Down.” It is one of those songs that immediately sticks in your head and stays with you for a lifetime. Defying style trends, it is simply good, and its story, like much of The Boomswagglers music, is deceptively deep. Songs like this withstand the test of time.
Hank Williams III – “Straight to Hell”
The title track off of Hank3′s magnum opus Straight to Hell from 2006 was the “hit” of underground country if it ever had one. It has risen to become one of Hank3′s signature songs, and he regularly uses it to start off his live shows.
Bob Wayne – “Blood to Dust”
Bob Wayne may be best known for his wild-assed party songs laced with drugs, loose women, and running from the cops, but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a deep song when he wants. As Bob will tell you, every word in this song is true, and the personal and poignant nature of the story makes it very hard to not be affected emotionally when it is listened to with an open heart. “Blood to Dust” speaks to the broken nature of many of underground country’s artists and fans. The song appears on Bob Wayne’s very first album of the same name, and his first big release Outlaw Carnie on Century Media.
JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – “Dark Bar & A Juke Box”
Underground country isn’t just a sound, it is a sentiment; a feeling that something is wrong in country music, and something needs to be done about it. This is the foundation for the title track off of JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifter’s 2006 album. At the time JB Beverley may have been better known for fronting punk bands. But unlike many of the underground country bands that would come along later, blurring the lines between punk and country, JB Beverley serves “Dark Bar & A Juke Box” up straight, in a sound that refers Wayne Hancock’s throwback style.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Johnny Law”
If “Juke Joint Jumpin’” is Wayne Hancock’s signature song, then Johnny Law is his defining jam. This song has become a showcase for some of the greatest musicians in the history of underground country during the extended breaks for both the guitar and upright bass player. It might also go down in history as one of the most requested songs in underground country.
Dale Watson – “Nashville Rash”
For a precious time in the late 90′s ans early 2000′s, the triumvirate of Wayne Hancock, Hank Williams III, and Dale Watson looked like they were going to take the country music world by storm. It was because they were willing to speak out, and lead by example, both sonically and lyrically. Dale is still leading today, and his legacy of country protest songs like “Nashville Rash” still gets you pumping your fist.
Rachel Brooke & Lonesome Wyatt – “Someday I’ll Fall”
Rachel Brooke, The Queen of Underground Country, and one of the founding fathers of Gothic country, Lonesome Wyatt from Those Poor Bastards, teamed up in 2009 for the landmark album A Bitter Harvest. The album, and specifically the song “Someday I’ll Fall” symbolize the collaborative spirit inherent in underground country—where two artist come together to become greater than the sum of their parts. “Someday I’ll Fall” is also a great example of taking old school influences and embedding them in a new, fresh approach.
Joe Buck Yourself – “Planet Seeth”
One of the men responsible for helping to revitalize the hallowed ground of lower Broadway in Nashville in the mid 90′s delivers this bloodletting of a song where the audience is actively encouraged to release their hate in Joe Buck’s direction. Though the language and music may be too hard for most, the concept and execution of “Planet Seeth” is nonetheless genius. It embodies the participatory aspect of underground country, where the crowd is as much a part of the show as the artist, giving back in energy what they receive from the performer in a symbiotic relationship.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs”
Few songs can evokes mood and reminiscent memory like Hancock’s “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs.” It set the standard for the old-school style of country swing that was so seminal to the formation of underground country. The song’s legacy was cemented when Hank Williams III covered it on his first album Risin’ Outlaw, introducing Wayne Hancock to a whole new audience, and vice versa. “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs” helped cement the underground country movement.
We live in a charmed time in music where if all you want to listen to is the throwback, neo-traditional sounds of artists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Lucky Tubb, BR549, and early Hank Williams III, then you can bury your nose deep in the internet and find darn near enough bands of that style that you don’t have to listen to anything else. And if you’re one of those country throwback types that prefers the drums be replaced with the slap of an upright bass while the lonesome sounds of swinging country blues fills your ears, Danny Kay and the Nighlifers can quench that rumble deep in your old school country music gut.
Crazy Lonesome Blue comes at you with no frills, offering up a bevy of original songs, a few covers and traditionals, and an all-star cast comprising the Nightlifer’s lineup. It’d take a DNA test to convince me that Danny Kay isn’t a cousin of Lucky Tubb in the way his lonesome drawl with a rounded cadence really pulls the emotion out of the words to a song while pulling the listener’s ear right in. After laying down the foundation and setting the story of the song, Danny’s gets out of the way and lets the hillbilly maestros in the Nighlifers do their handiwork.
It starts off with blazing lead guitarist Zach Sweeney from both Wayne Hancock’s and Lucky Tubb’s touring bands laying down some of the sickest, most tasteful leads you can find in country music. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again about Sweeny—he is a guitar-playing superstar of independent country, and deserves to get way more buzz and recognition. Then comes Liz Sloan (also in Jayke Orvis’s “Broken Band”) who matches Sweeny note for note for style and taste, while her beau and fellow Broken Band member Jared McGovern slaps out a dizzying bed of bass notes.
And Danny Kay is willing to share the spotlight with his Nightlifers. Crazy Lonesome Blue offers up two instrumental tracks, including “Urban Pioneer” that was penned by his sidemen. Dustin Delage offers some minimal, tasteful drums on a few tracks, and Mark Whiskey handles backing vocals.
Standout tracks for this listener were the aforementioned instrumental “Urban Pioneer,” “Heart of a Fool,” “Nothing’s Wrong (But There Sure Ain’t Nothing Right)” and the fun “Must Have Been Drunk.”
While listening to Crazy Lonesome Blue, you get the sense that acts like BR549 and Wayne Hancock are the teachers, while Danny Kay is still the student, but Danny Kay would probably tell you just as much himself. Nonetheless there’s not a bad track on this album, and it’s good to see new blood make their voice heard in the neo-traditional ranks.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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If you needed any more proof that The Svengali of Country Music, one Shooter Jennings is all about creating a cult of personality and pursuing his name as product, just sit back and appreciate that in this recessionary economy when many artists are slashing ticket prices and making themselves more accessible, Shooter is now asking his hard working fans for $85 simply for the opportunity to shake his hand right before his show and walk away with a tote bag. Yes, quite a hefty price tag for someone who has recently been touting himself as a proponent for independent, grassroots music.
Announced a few days ago, “VIP meet & greet packages” are being offered at many of Shooter’s upcoming appearances, including at the Muddy Roots Festival this late August. What do you get for your $85? A T-shirt, a tote bag, 5 guitar picks (that grand total will cost Shooter less than $12-$15 wholesale), and this is my favorite one, an “Invitation to pre-show private shopping experience.” That’s right folks, for your hard earned $85, you get the exclusive opportunity to spend even more money on Shooter’s merch. What you don’t get for $85? Actual admittance to the show. That will cost you extra. So will the tacked on fees for buying the VIP ticket. After a transaction and convenience fee, the actual cost for a Shooter photo op is $90.64.
For an artist of Shooter’s size, and even ones many steps above him on the music food chain, this type of arrogant cash grab from fans is absolutely unparalleled. Furthermore, Shooter Jennings specifically asking to be dealt with in this manner of privilege at the Muddy Roots Festival is a complete insult to the standing culture and spirit of that particular festival, and all grassroots festivals for that matter. One of the things that makes grassroots festivals such an enjoyable experience is that nobody is above anyone, there are no VIP perks, and fans and artists interact freely.
Even more curious, the Muddy Roots Festival is one of the few events that Shooter has decided to purposely promote this $85 package for.
In May of 2011, SCM interviewed the Galaz brothers who are the promoters of Muddy Roots. They spoke specifically about the access the festival gives fans to the artists:
Anthony: The fans and bands were together. There was no barricade, no barrier, no VIP sections backstage. And that’s what gave the people who made the pilgrimage to Cookeville from whatever state or country such an experience, because all the bands they listen to, they could just go up and talk to them and hang out with them. There’s was nobody that was “too cool.” There were no pedestals.
Jason: I like that, there were no pedestals. It wasn’t, “Hey, there’s rock stars, let’s look at them, but we can’t talk or touch them.”
In August of 2011, SCM interviewed Zale Schoenborn, the promoter of the Pickathon Festival in Portland that this year is featuring Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, Sturgill Simpson, Caleb Klauder, and many other country acts in a diverse lineup. Zale spoke specifically on how separating artists from fans and setting up VIP perks erodes the festival experience for everyone.
We designed the (Pickathon) space to where you come in and relate to the space without a lot of barriers. And that includes the artists. We don’t wall them off, we don’t have VIP sections, but we do create some communal spaces, and when the artists come out they’re part of the audience. It’s very common sense type stuff. It’s like what you would do if you were hosting people at your house. When people are planning it from X’s and O’s, those decisions about the human element fall to the numbers side. It’s unfortunate because those little things are what people tend to take away.
At last year’s Muddy Roots fest, the 86-year-old country music icon Ralph Stanley stayed after his set and signed every piece of memorabilia brought before him, and took pictures with anyone that wanted one, with no time limit, and no money changing hands for the autographs or photos. So did many of the other bands that played the festival. At Pickathon, after each performer plays, they go to a designated merch area where fans can get memorabilia signed and take pictures with the artists.
The meet and greet marketing tool is traditionally only reserved for large corporate country music festivals and top headliner names way beyond the sphere of Shooter Jennings who is a mid-level club draw at best. Many artists selling out arenas don’t even ask for this type of cash for meet and greets, if they even give their fans the option at all. Many times the meet and greet is for certain members of a fan club or an artist’s message board who have proved their fandom over the years. Even Taylor Swift has a system that rewards the loyalty of fans instead of wealth. At each concert, Swift has a team of people that fan out across the venue looking for attendees that show the most spirit, and hand select them for a free meet and greet opportunity after the show.
Kid Rock made headlines recently announcing he was charging only $20 for tickets for his summer tour, and was also working with venues and promoters to lower prices on food, beverages, and merchandise. “It’s gotten out of hand, price of concerts, the price of entertainment, period,” Kid Rock says. “I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always tried to keep prices what I think are fair, and I’ve always said I’m proud that I can walk around with my head held high and look someone in the eye, knowing that I haven’t taken an un-honest dollar from a working man. I make a lot of money, I can take a pay cut. All my friends are taking pay cuts, that are in unions, that are farming in Alabama, whatever it is. I can surely take a pay cut, too.”
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Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm, or that he will offer even more incentives now, drop the price, or donate the proceeds to charity, and make a big point of shaking people’s hands at shows who didn’t pay the exorbitant fee, because like all of Shooter’s gross missteps, they’re always followed by a cavalcade of excuses and explanations that his surrogates, sycophants, and toadies always believe, while his underlying approach to selling himself as product and using the names of others as stepping stones remains the same.
Like I have always said to independent and underground music entities, you don’t need Shooter Jennings, Shooter Jennings needs you. Like a politician, Shooter has been out kissing babies. Taking artists out to Chuck E Cheese and buying bloggers drinks, playing artists on his radio show and shaking hands with fans over the last few years was simply setup to an opportunity to cash out on the backs of well-meaning underground roots artists, fans, and entities. And if this latest evidence doesn’t prove this to Shooter apologists, nothing will.
I once heard the worse thing a man could do is draw a hungry crowd
Tell everyone his name, pride, and confidence, but leaving out his doubt
I’m not sure I bought those words, when I was young I knew most everything
These words have never meant as much to anyone, as they now mean to me
Since Saving Country Music is in tune with the plight of the common man, and know many of Shooter’s fans would love to get their picture with him but can’t pay the exorbitant fee, we are manufacturing a life-sized, transportable photo-op of the picture below, to be provided at Shooter Jennings’ live performances. Poor, hapless Shooter fans and their friends can simply stick their faces through the provided holes, and have the next best thing to getting their picture taken with the Country Music Svengali himself. And it’s all free! (sorry, no tote bags will be given away)
(7-11-13 9:20 PM CDT): Shooter Jennings and/or his management have decided to drop the offer of VIP packages at festivals. As I said above, “Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm,” and on cue, Shooter surrogate Jon Hensley explains, “There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible.” You can read Jon Hensley’s entire statement below.
With no malice or mincing of words, I commend Shooter Jennings and/or his management for seeing that these VIP upgrades at grassroots festivals were unfair, unfeasible, and against the spirit of independent country and roots music. Though I still believe the price Shooter is asking for his VIP upgrade is egregious and unparalleled for an artist his size, and that the whole culture of VIP treatment has no place in independent roots music, the elimination of the option for festivals helps preserve the camaraderie and the independent spirit that makes these festivals so enjoyable for fans, and gives them a unique experience in music where all patrons are treated equal.
Jon Hensley’s statement:
Just to clarify…we are not offering any VIP ticket upgrades at any festival Shooter Jennings is playing this year or any year. There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible. But, they will ONLY be available for club and theater dates. To any son of a bitch that has a problem with us offering these upgrades you should talk to any of the fans that have actually purchased one. Ask them if they felt like their money was well spent. It is totally laughable that some stupid asshole hiding behind a computer thinks he has the right to tell Shooter’s fans how they should or should not spend their own hard earned money. This is a business and at the end of the day we all have to make smart business decisions to survive. Offering an optional concert ticket upgrade to loyal fans is not wrong or unheard of and no matter what anybody thinks about it we will continue to offer the upgrades until the world comes to an end. And, if any “blogger” has a problem with them they can address it face to face. All you have to do is purchase the ticket upgrade and see us at the meet and greet.
I have no problem meeting someone face to face and explaining my grievances with Shooter’s VIP package, but to act like not doing this initially is some sort of move of cowardice is pretty high school. Where is Jon Hensley at the moment? Is he within driving distance? I don;t have a problem meeting him, but maybe the matter is more practical to deal with through the miracle of internet. Also, nobody is hiding behind a screen. Last weekend I was out in public at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic for 12 straight hours. I’ve been at 4 of the last 5 Pickathon Festivals, the last 2 Muddy Roots Festivals, SXSW a dozen or so times, and live events on a regular basis. If someone wants to come and speak to me in person, I am very accessible, wherever I am. And I don;t say anything on this website that I wouldn’t say to anyone’s “face.”
Country music loves to pride itself in supporting the troops and the cause of the military more than any other genre. Though some of it may be bravado meant more for marketing, there are many legends in the country music ranks that served their country as young men. Here’s a list of country heroes who served the county.
Possibly country music’s most well-known veteran, Kris Kristofferson came from a family that pushed him to enlist after attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and graduating with a degree in literature. Yes, Kristofferson was a smart one to say the least, and achieved the rank of Captain in the US Army as a helicopter pilot and Ranger. He received his training at Fort Rucker, Alabama before being deployed to West Germany as part of the 8th Infantry Division. After serving out his tour of duty, Kristofferson was scheduled to become an English Literature professor at West Point, but decided to pursue a career in songwriting instead. The decision meant he was disowned by his family, but that didn’t stop the American Veterans Awards from naming Kris “Veteran of the Year” in 2003. Kristofferson’s first job in music was sweeping floors at Columbia Studios. His first successful songwriting hit was “Vietnam Blues” recorded by Dave Dudley.
Willie Nelson may be known as one of the world’s greatest pacifists, but he grew up in an era when military service was expected of young men, and the draft was in full force. So he voluntarily joined the Air Force in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, wanting to be a jet pilot. He received his first basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, but it was concluded Willie was too “absentminded” (as Willie puts it) to be in the cockpit of a jet. So the Air Force shipped him to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, and eventually to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for more basic training. Eventually they made him a medic, but years of bailing hay in Willie’s hometown of Abbott, TX had given him a bad back condition and he was discharged after 9 months of service.
In 1950, a year before Willie Nelson made his way to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to enlist in the Air Force, future fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash did the same. Cash spent 4 years in the service, rising to Staff Sargent, and becoming a Morse Code intercept operator working in Landsberg, West Germany. Johnny is given credit for intercepting the first radio transmission announcing the news of the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The name of Cash’s first band was “The Landsberg Barbarians,” an homage to the German town he called home. When Cash was honorably discharged in July of 1954, he returned to Texas to marry his first wife Vivian Liberto who he’d met at a roller rink when in basic training.
Before Shel Silverstein penned “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “Put Another Log on the Fire” for Tompall Glaser, and many other country hits, and before he’d go on to sell over 20 million children’s books, he was an illustrator for the Pacific Stars & Stripes military publication. Silverstein was drafted into the Army in 1953 and served in both Korea and Japan. When it was clear Silverstein was not fit for combat, he began illustrating an article series called Take Ten, amusing service members with his drawings and anecdotes about military life. Later his cartoons would be featured in two books: Take Ten and Grab Your Socks!, becoming big sellers for Ballintine Books, and introducing the world to Shel’s illustrative and comedic genius.
There’s many “new Outlaws” in mainstream country music right now walking around with dogs tags, but Jamey Johnson is the only one with actual military cred to back the fashion accessory up. After dropping out of Jacksonville State University, Johnson enlisted in the Marine Corps where he served for 8 solid years, rising to the rank of corporal as a mortarman in the 23rd Marines, 3rd Batallion. During his Marine Corps stint, he was known for playing his original songs for bunk mates, and two of the songs on Jamey’s first self-released album mention the Marines. By coincidence, Johnson was discharged from the military 1 week before his unit deployed to Iraq, but he’s been to both Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times since, making regular appearances on USO tours.
George Jones was enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 1950′s during The Korean War, stationed in San Jose, California until he was discharged in 1953.
Roger Miller enlisted in the Army and served in the Korean War to avoid being arrested for stealing a guitar when he was 17.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock was in the Marines, and gives credit to his time in Okinawa for endowing him with his love for the steel guitar sound.
George Strait was enlisted in the Army from 1971 to 1975, stationed in Hawaii for the later half of his career as part of the 25th Infantry Division. He performed in an army-sanctioned country band called “Rambling Country.”
Songwriter Billy Don Burns was a paratrooper from 1968-1970.
Charlie Louvin of The Louvin Brothers served in both World War II and The Korean War.
Hank Thompson served in the Navy in Word War II.
Texas country traditionalist Jason Eady served in The Air Force for six years as a translator.
Wayne Hancock has more handles than a chester drawers: The Train, The King Of Juke Joint Swing, The Father of Underground Country, The Viper of Melody. He deserves every single one of them, yet none of them nor all of them combined seem to do justice to the enjoyment and influence his music has dispensed over the years.
A new Wayne Hancock album is like a gift from the country music gods; the same gods that bestowed upon him the capacity to be the closest living thing you can find to Hank Williams today (according to Hank Williams III among others), yet still be a wholly unique artist who finds himself in the very exclusive ranks of true music originators–those rare musical souls who’ve germinated their own genres and genealogy trees full of new artists inspired by their work.
Ride is probably Wayne Hacock’s most personal album to date, released after what might be the most tumultuous period in his career. Immediately after the street date of his last album in 2009 Viper of Melody, Hancock lost his band in the aftermath of a skirmish between his guitar player and steel player. This set to spinning a revolving door of touring players that still has yet to fully settle, though has showcased some extraordinary talent along the way. Then there was the cancelling of some tour dates and a rehab stint, then a separation from his wife. Then another rehab stint. All of this drama is contained in Ride in both candid and veiled references.
“I had a good gal, that I loved so. We got married, not to long ago. But then my drinking got in the way. So she left me, a year ago today,” Wayne says in “Best To Be Alone.”
Wayne Hancock has a track record since 1995 of only putting out quality releases. Go ahead, take the magnifying glass and the tweezers out and poke around his discography all you want. You may not sit right with his style, but Wayne is a master at what he does. By featuring top shelf players and a fairly straightforward methodology, Wayne knocked out Ride in 1 1/2 days; jaw dropping for even some of the best performers. People of note joining Wayne on the recording are long-time producer Lloyd Maines, and Bob Stafford, also known as “Texaco” that you can hear Hancock calling out to Bob Wills-style in some of his most legendary recordings.
Ride continues Wayne’s trend of stellar albums, but for the first time you see some slight chinks in the armor. The very first time I heard the title and opening track “Ride,” I could hear a lack of energy in Hancock’s voice that I had never heard from him in the recorded format. There’s nothing wrong with Wayne’s voice, you just don’t feel the same passion you know he’s capable of. This again shows up in the second song “Low Down Blues,” a track he says he wrote the day before going into the studio. I don’t mean these songs capture the depressed emotion of the story, they just simply sound a little uninspired. An artist must be balanced not only against their peers, but against themselves, and on these first few tracks, Wayne feels tired; a little un-Wayne Hancock.
Wayne pulls it out though, at the same time validating the tired hypothesis for the first few songs when he offers a truly inspired performance on the gospel-esque “Lone Road Home.” From there on, you re-discover the Wayne Hancock you know and love, with a bounce in his voice and bounding rhythms that are hard not to be compelled by. Another Wayne Hancock wonderment is his ability to pen instant classics, and that’s what you get with the sultry, jazzy “Gal From Kitchen’s Field” and the fun “Cappuccino Boogie.”
On Ride, Wayne starts by showing a little wear on the tires, but then rallies to prove he’s got plenty of tread left. He’s not just The Viper of Melody, or the King of Juke Joint Swing, he’s Wayne “The Train” Hancock by God. And even if he hangs up his guitar tomorrow, he will still go down as one of the most influential artists in American music, a true forefather of Americana, and one of the originating sparks of the roots music revolution.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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The case can be made that Mumford & Sons is the biggest thing in all of music right now, with Babel winning the Grammy for Album of the Year and their worldwide sales rivaling all other artists. This is a weird reality for many roots fans who fell into favor with acoustic music many years ago.
Roots music has always been a quiet, shy sphere of the music world, not really craving popularity or hype. Meanwhile Mumford’s wild success has some talking about a roots backlash, and has opened up the possibility of an impending crash in the popularity arch that could leave elements of the roots world feeling like a fad, like 60′s folk or late 90′s swing.It all makes you wonder if Mumford’s music wouldn’t be better received in some circles if it just wasn’t so damn popular.
Many of the bold changes in the direction of popular music begin with artists that are too fey, too polarizing to become popular themselves. So it takes others who understand how to soften music with sensibilities to make it accessible to the masses, and hopefully, if time is on their side, transect the popularity timeline, resulting in superstardom.
With Mumford & Sons, there were many other bands, artists, and events that set the table for their wild success, buttering up crowds, building an appreciation for acoustic roots music throughout varying demographics and origination points. Here are a few of them.
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O Brother Where Art Thou created its own roots music tempest and bluegrass revival when it was released in 2000, and since it originated in the cinematic world instead of the music world, its impact on popular culture was far reaching, finding its way down avenues that otherwise would not be exposed to roots music. From that big bloom, the seeds were planted that would later sprout and blossom into the Mumford & Sons’ ubiquitous, widespread appeal, making acoustic roots into full-blown popular music.
Old Crow Medicine Show was one of the main ingredients in both influencing the sound of Mumford & Sons, and setting the table for their mass appeal. Marcus Mumford says of Old Crow, “I first heard Old Crow’s music when I was, like, 16, 17, and that really got me into, like, folk music, bluegrass. I mean, I’d listened to a lot of Dylan, but I hadn’t really ventured into the country world so much. So Old Crow were the band that made me fall in love with country music.” Ketch Secor of Old Crow concurs, saying, “Those boys took the message and ran with it.”
Meanwhile Old Crow Medicine Show, and specifically their gold-certified song “Wagon Wheel” created the fervor for roots music that Mumford & Sons are currently feeding off of.
Old Crow Medicine Show might be the band named as Mumford’s primary influence, but when looking at the band from the standpoint of lineup, instrumentation, energy, and the emotional context of their lyricism, The Avett Brothers’ fingerprints can be found all over Mumford & Sons.
The easiest similarity to distinguish is how the two bands line up on stage. Scott Avett was one of the first acoustic roots frontmen to play a bass drum with his foot while standing at center stage, while his brother Scott played a hi-hat cymbal the same way. The brothers also had the propensity to move around stage behind different instruments, specifically the drums, just like Marcus Mumford does. The high, punk-esque energy The Avett Brothers bring to their show alongside a softening of the edges of roots music is something else Mumford emulates, as are their songs that seem to drip with emotionalism. This emotional approach to roots music is what separated The Avett Brothers from their bluegrass forebears when The Avetts started out in 2000; a full 7 years before Mumford & Sons’ first release.
Whereas Mumford & Sons’ rise has been meteoric, The Avett Brothers enacted a very slow build, van touring incessantly on a small club circuit until their infectious approach to roots music saw them graduate to small theaters, large theaters, and then signing with Rick Rubin in 2008, nearly a decade after they started out. The Avett Brothers approach, and the sweat equity they built from tireless touring over many years is at the very fabric of Mumford & Sons’ sound and success. Mumford is not an Avett Brothers rubber stamp, but it’s hard not to give The Avetts props for blazing a wide, clear path for them.
Bob Dylan is given great credit as a Mumford & Sons’ influence, and this is primarily evidenced in the poetic, and sometimes veiled nature of Mumford’s lyrical writing. In that same respect, Shakespeare and Plato are Mumford influences. Both characters and others from classical literature are originators of language that has appeared in Mumford & Sons songs. Marcus Mumford once said, “You can rip off Shakespeare all you like; no lawyer’s going to call you up on that one.” They also draw from American novelist John Steinbeck in their songs “Dust Bowl Dance” and “Timshel.”
The Devil Makes Three is never given enough credit for impacting the roots music revolution. It’s probably a stretch to say they had any direct influence on Mumford & Sons, but when The Devil Makes Three started in 2002, they were one of the very first bands, and virtually the only band on the West Coast that brought a high-energy, punk-inspired approach to acoustic roots music. Rarely spoken about east of the Mississippi or away from their native Vermont, The Devil Makes Three draws massive crowds in California and have inspired many spawns across the country. They are responsible for countless new acoustic roots fans, and helped allow the cross-continent permeation of Mumford mania.
Along with the obvious bluegrass greats like Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson, and Ralph Stanley, newer artists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, The Civil Wars, Trampled by Turtles, The Hacksensaw Boys, Split Lip Rayfiled, Larry & His Flask, The .357 String Band, The Foghorn Stringband, The Wiyos, The Goddamn Gallows, Reverend Peyton, and many more laid a foundation for alternative roots music appreciation in America that Mumford & Sons now enjoys.
Jimbo Mathus has the authenticity that every other music artist covets. They root through vintage shops in their city’s hipstertown trying to score vintage duds. They spend egregious amounts of money on antique music gear, fiddling with knobs and pedals trying to evoke that right tone. They strike their poses on stage and sing from the gut. And still Jimbo Mathus is cooler and more authentic when he first wakes up in the morning with his hair a mess, standing on an old unswept linoleum floor in his stained paisley boxers, rubbing the eye boogers off his face.
Nothing rivals authenticity, and by definition, nothing can simulate it. Only Jimbo Mathus, whose bones were cast in the mud of Oxford, Mississippi can make authenticity look so effortless, while at his core being a helpless music geek with a fake front tooth and wiry frame wanting to be heard.
Possibly known best as the front man for the legendarily-eclectic Squirrel Nut Zippers, he holds his own against the Brian Setzers and Wayne “The Train” Hancocks of the world when it comes to resurrecting vintage American sounds and presenting them to the present-day ear. Yet with the on again, off again nature of the Zippers, and Jimbo’s propensity to move from blues, to country, to rock as smoothly as a Navy Seal deftly slipping from air, to sea, to land through a theater of battle, Jimbo keeps from being pigeon-holed as the “king” of anything by being and adept at everything. He’s more of a witches brew of influences, where black meets white, country meets blues, and roots meets rock. Mix it all together with some toil and trouble, and the result is a concoction of some mean, potent shit straight out of the filthy American South.
With White Buffalo, Jimbo Mathus captures more sweat in the recording than anything this side of Sticky Fingers. His previous album Confederate Buddha had some remarkable tracks, but like the contrasting characters of its title, the album at times felt like it was searching for its narrative. With White Buffalo, Jimbo and the Tri-State Coalition struck a cohesion that allowed the songs, the players, and the album to be so well-blended, like the edges of all the autonomous parts were melted together until there was no beginning or end. The album not only captures the live sound in the recordings, the recordings sounds alive.
White Buffalo is a journey through the South. And no, not in Jason Aldean’s king cab with air conditioning and buckets seats, but in an old beater with panty hose and coat hangers procured for spare parts. With song titles like “Hatchie Bottom” and “Fake Hex,” you know you’re in for an interesting trip, and you’re glad to have a local as your guide.
The song themes are eternal, and Jimbo’s blue collar approach to songwriting and composition is absorbing. “Hatchie Bottom” speaks about the warmth of home. “In The Garden” and the witchey “Run Devil Run” are infused with the Southern theme of sin. “Tennessee Walker Mare” works like an answer to Jimmie Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud” covered by so many country greats over the years.
And don’t ask me what is going on in the careening “White Buffalo.” It plays out like the soundtrack to a high speed car case involving a candy apple blue El Camino with bullet holes in the door and a half-naked Catherine Bach stretched out across the bench seat, but apparently it’s about an actual white buffalo named Tukota that lived near Tupelo. As Jimbo explains, he doesn’t have to go too far from home to find compelling themes for his songs.
Jimbo Mathus came up as a neo-traditionalist when grunge was all the rage. Now that roots are all the range, he comes across as a bluesy Southern rocker. In between he’s rubbed elbows and collaborated with Buddy Guy, and the North Mississippi All Stars. In the end it’s not a genre that defines him, but the state of Mississippi, yet his music is a treasure the whole world can appreciate.
Two guns up.
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Another week, and another country music artist originating from north of the border makes the cut for official Saving Country Music criticism. I agree, there must be something deeper behind this Canadian trend, and perhaps we’ll delve into that topic further at a later date. But for now, let’s pop the hood on Daniel Romano’s Come Cry With Me and see what its got.
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Daniel Romano is not a neo-traditionalist in the traditional sense. He’s not trying to regale the modern ear with a new take on the classic country sound. Instead Daniel Romano is like the method actor of classic country, carving his niche by offering a strict interpretation of classic country’s modes with striking accuracy. It’s not a retro sound, it is a strict, methodical re-enactment. Everything fits the period–the words, the instrumentation, the song structure.
Take for example the first song “Middle Child” and the way the story fits the very real practice back in the 50′s and 60′s of families giving up their own children to institutions because they simply didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them. This was the fate that befell David Allan Coe for example. The way Daniel Romano dives into the emotional depths of this practice from the perspective of the child chosen to be given away is astounding, and he does so with such attention to keeping the language in the period.
Except for maybe his recording approach, there is nothing here to hint that Daniel Romano and his music weren’t just removed from a time capsule. It is this insistence on authenticity and attention to detail that elevate Come Cry With Me to high art. This really isn’t music that you put on in the background or bang your head to. Like visual art, you sit back and appreciate the use of technique. That doesn’t mean this album isn’t listenable, it’s just that you must know what to listen for.
This is where Daniel Romano and Come Cry With Me present a dilemma. I certainly wouldn’t call this album accessible. For classic country fans, of course it is, but this is not a good gateway drug to get your Clear Channel-listening friends into the idea that there’s an alternative to corporate music. To them, it will come across as hokey, Howdy Doody Canadian hipster wierdo-ness. But that’s okay, it’s not meant for them, and not all music is for everyone.
Another notch against its accessibility is how slow this album is. Except for the song “Chicken Bill,” all the songs reside in the slow register. The “Chicken Bill” follow up, “When I Was Abroad” is the album’s sole hiccup to the classic country vibe, as it mixes the sea-fearing connotation of the title with the cross-dressing one. But surprisingly Come Cry With Me doesn’t take the silly, hipster (for lack of a better word) turn that you anticipate it might. It resists sarcasm in favor of strict interpretation.
This doesn’t mean you couldn’t read sarcasm into it if you wanted. And this chameleon nature is another positive attribute of Come Cry With Me. You play this record for a grandparent and they would know no different from what they remember back in the day. You play in for some hipster in Ray Bans and sweat bands, and he could very possibly see it as the seat of condescending irony. Condescending in a good, entertaining way that is, at least from their perspective.
This album is not for everyone, and I think it’s also an interesting discussion of how “creative” this album is. Unlike other “neo-traditional” or classic country artists like Wayne Hancock or Eilen Jewell, there’s no original, new sound being bred from this music. But I like Daniel Romano’s approach. It’s a fun record that also makes you think, and has an infectious quality where it makes you listen deeper to the craft of classic country music, and makes you appreciate classic country that much more more.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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The King of Juke Joint Swing, The Viper of Melody, one Wayne “The Train” Hancock will be releasing his first album in nearly 3 years on February 26th called Ride through Bloodshot Records.
“Well folks just wanted to let ya know I’m now a Double A Daddy (means I’m clean and sober),” Hancock announced on Saturday (1-4), referencing one of the signature songs from his first album Thunderstorms & Neon Signs. “Starting the New Year off with a new attitude! We got the new album coming out in Feb. and tours to follow. See ya all down the road.”
UPDATE: The title track and first single from ride has just been released! Listen below.
And that’s not the only new Wayne Hancock album out. On the day after Christmas, Bloodshot Records released Choice Cuts: Best of Wayne Hancock as part of the label’s digital-only series meant to give new fans an easy way to catch up on an artist, or old fans the ability to find an artist’s best songs in one place. Wayne’s Best Of also includes a rare duet track of his hit “Juke Joint Jumping” featuring Hank Williams III. Previously the track was only available on Bloodshot’s For A Decade of Sin compilation released in 2005.
Hancock has had substance and alcohol issues in the past. In June of 2011, Wayne entered rehab to help with his “long-term fight with addiction.” But hopefully Wayne is on the right track now, and as the saying goes, THE TRAIN WILL ROLL ON.
The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90′s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music to create a counterbalance to the pop country that was prevailing on Music Row a few blocks west.
Underground country started with mostly neo-traditionalists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Big Sandy, and Dale Watson, but spread to the punk and heavy metal world through acts like Hank Williams III and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. This list does not just consider the appeal of these albums, but also the influence they had on other underground artists and albums, and on country music and music in general.
Please understand that this list is just for underground country albums. This means artists better defined by the Deep Blues like Scott H. Biram or Possessed by Paul James, or Texas artists like James Hand or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or country artists who may work on the fringes of underground country but would not necessarily be considered underground like BR549 or Roger Alan Wade, are not included. Americana acts are not included. This is strictly underground country’s opportunity to bask in the spotlight.
Please feel free to leave your own list below.
16. The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings – 2011
This very well may be the most authentic album of music put out in the modern era for any genre. The Boomswagglers have always been and continue to be more myth than reality, with original Boomswaggler Lawson Bennett long gone and a cavalcade of replacements shuffling in an out with Spencer Cornett. Even if they never put out another album, The Boomswagglers made their mark, and it is a deep one.
“The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If you’re going to be a Boomswagglers song, someone’s got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.” (read full review)
15. JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box – 2006
Dark Bar & A Juke Box was an instant underground country classic, and so was the anti Music Row song that the album got its name from. JB and his Wayward Drifters grit out a superb selection of songs displaying taste, restraint, and a sincere appreciation for the roots of country music, which may have surprised some who knew JB more for his work with heavy metal bands like The Murder Junkies and the Little White Pills. Dark Bar & A Juke Box also boasts appearances from the famous son and grandson of a country music royal family, who due to contractual issues had to work incognito (wink wink).
14. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours – Del Gaucho – 2011
Some (including Lucky himself) may point to Hillbilly Fever as being the seminal Lucky Tubb album with its big budget and appearances by Wayne “The Train” Hancock. But Del Gaucho is where Lucky Tubb came into his own, found his sound, and the unique musical flavor only he has to offer the world. Dirty, rowdy, rocking, but still steadfastly neo-traditionalist country, Del Gaucho scores off the charts when it comes to style points. When you’re talking about some of the greatest neo-traditional country albums and artists of all time, Lucky Tubb and Del Gaucho deserve to be in that conversation.
13- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies – Blood to Dust – 2008
They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and what makes Bob Wayne’s Blood to Dust so special is how true and touching he told his life’s story through song. His subsequent albums aren’t too shabby either, but with signature songs like “Blood to Dust”, “Road Bound”, and “27 Years”, this still stands out as his signature album, and a signature album of the underground country movement. It was performed, produced, and recorded by an all-star cast of contributors that included Donnie Herron, Joe Buck and Andy Gibson, and brought Bob Wayne out from behind-the-scenes as Hank3′s guitar tech, and made him one of the movement’s most well-known songwriters and performers.
12. Jayke Orvis – It’s All Been Said – 2010
This is the album that launched Farmageddon Records, and that launched Jayke Orvis as a formidable, premier front man in underground country. One of the founding members of the now legendary .357 String Band, Jayke was asked to leave the band because of irreconcilable differences and almost immediately began touring with The Goddamn Gallows and trying to make this album happen. The result was a slick, tightly-crafted LP showcasing excellent songwriting and instrumentation. From ballads to blazing instrumentals, Jayke Orvis has proved himself to be one of the singular talents of underground country roots.
11. Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke – A Bitter Harvest – 2009
This album was destined to become an underground country classic. The mad genius music mind of Lonesome Wyatt of the Gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards has the uncanny ability to procure the absolute most appropriate sounds to evoke the desired dark mood in his music. Then you combine that with one of the best voices not just in underground country, but in all of music in Rachel Brooke, and magic was bound to happen. The creativity on A Bitter Harvest is spellbinding. More of an artistic endeavor than a toe tapper, Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel create a soundtrack to human emotion and despair. For people looking for a place for country music to evolve, A Bitter Harvest shows how you can take authentic country themes and an appreciation for the roots of the music, and envelop it in layers of textural color culled from the wide experience of human sounds.
10. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies – 2009
Midnight At The Movies was Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year. Today it would be difficult to characterize Justin Townes Earle as underground country because the quality of this album launched him into the inner sanctum of Americana.
“Justin Townes Earle has done an awesome thing with this album; he has figured out a way to unite all the displaced elements that make up the alternative to mainstream Nashville country, while still staying somewhat accessible to the mainstream folks as well. You might even catch the bluegrass folks nodding their head while listening to it. Folkies like it, and there’s a few tunes blues people can get into. This isn’t just the REAL country album of the year, it is the “Alt-country” album of the year and the “Americana” album of the year.” (read full review)
9. Slackeye Slim - El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa – 2011
“Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes everything. It’s an album that inspires other albums, and dynamic shifts in tastes and approach throughout a sector of music, while at the same time dashing the dreams of other artists, as the purity and originality are way too much to attempt to rival. Slackeye Slim’s El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa is one of those albums.
“El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, exquisitely produced, arranged, and performed. This is a patient, uncompromising album. You can tell time was never introduced into this project as a goal. The goal was to flesh out Slackeye’s vision without ever settling for second best, and that goal was accomplished.” (read full review)
8. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – That’s What Daddy Wants – 1997
Thunderstorms & Neon Signs is the Wayne Hancock album most people gravitate towards as their favorite because it was their first, and the first to showcase Wayne Hancock’s unique blend of country, Western Swing, rockabilly, and blues. But pound for pound, That’s What Daddy Wants is just as good of an offering, boasting some of The Train’s signature songs like “87 Southbound” and “Johnny Law”. Wayne Hancock has never put out a bad album, and distinguishing between them is difficult. But it’s not difficult to say that the underground country movement would have not had as much class if That’s What Daddy Wants hadn’t seen the light of day.
7. .357 String Band – Fire & Hail – 2008
“They were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the band’s demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition.
“Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project. Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground country’s greatest tragedy.” (read full review)
6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002
BR549 and Wayne “The Train” Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90′s, but Hank Williams III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans he brought along from his dabblings in the punk/heavy metal world. After having to tow the line somewhat for his first album Risin’ Outlaw, Hank3 was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by Wayne Hancock and Hank3′s famous grandfather, but still all his own. His voice was wickedly pure with a heart wrenching yodel and commanding range. The songwriting was simple, but powerful. This is a masterpiece, and remains an essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.
5. Hellbound Glory – Old Highs & New Lows – 2010
Hellbound Glory had already been around for years, but they burst into the underground with this magnificent, hard country album highlighted by head man Leroy Virgil’s world class songwriting. Despite the “hell” in their name and the hard language in their songs, Hellbound Glory hadn’t gone through any retooling as post punk refugees. They were pure country through and through and Old Highs & New Lows combined excellent Outlaw-style bar stompers and ballads with some of the most wit-filled songwriting since Keith Whitley. As far as honky tonk albums go, it may be years before this one is trumped. And when it is, it might be Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory doing the trumping.
4. Dale Watson – Live in London…England – 2002
Dale comes out on stage and starts slinging guitars, cutting classics, and speaking the truth. Before Dale was the hometown boy and house band for Austin, he was pissed off and willing to sing about it. Dale’s anti-Nashville classics “Real Country Song”, “Nashville Rash”, and “Country My Ass” can all be found here, but Live in London isn’t all pissing and moaning. Songs like “Ain’t That Livin’” showed off Dale’s superlative voice and suave style. Honky tonk albums are sometimes hard to make because it is hard to capture that live, sweaty energy in the recorded context. So what better way to solve that problem than making a live one? Live in London remains the best Dale album to date.
3. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – Cockadoodledon’t – 2003
This was one of the first albums to bust out of the burgeoning music scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where one can argue the undergorund country movement started. It showed the world what kind of mayhem could be created by mixing country, blues, and punk music together without compromising taste and soul. It is the album which acts as a guidepost to the eclectic, yet intuitive and inter-related mix of influences that you will find in underground country: honest to goodness appreciation to the roots of American music, with a punk attitude and approach. And if you ever wondered why Joe Buck is considered part of underground country, appreciate that he played most of the music on Cockadoodledon’t.
2. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Thunderstorms & Neon Signs – 1995
There are two albums that you can look back on an make a serious case that if they did not exist, underground country music may not exist–the album below this one on this list, and Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorm & Neon Signs. There are two types of music artists: originators and imitators. Sometimes imitators can be very successful, and very creative artists themselves. But it always takes the originators to set the plate for the imitators to do what they do. Thunderstorms & Neon Signs was an original album from one of America’s most original country roots artists of all time. It doesn’t get much better or more influential than this.
1. Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell – 2006
This album isn’t underground country’s Red Headed Stranger. It isn’t underground country’s Honky Tonk Heroes. It is both. It is the album that both was a novel concept, a breakthrough sonically and lyrically, and had a massive impact on the business side of music, for artists winning control of their music and inspiring and showing artists how to do it themselves. The deposed son of country music royalty had taken on a major Nashville label, and won, and all while being one of the first to successfully bridge the energy and approach of punk and heavy metal music with traditional country, all while keeping the music solidly country in nature.
It was the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was the first to ever be recorded outside of a traditional studio setting. Of course only a select few were paying attention, but it broke through many barriers that to this day have changed music in significant ways, sonically and behind the scenes.
The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records. The impact on mainstream music may have not been seen, but it was felt, and just like all great albums, it’s legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.
The most common questions I get at the Saving Country Music help desk are, “Where’s Lucky Tubb?” “How can I find his tour dates?” “What’s he up to?” “Where can I buy his albums?” Like many of the brilliant musicians making a living in the country music underground, communication and self-promotion seem like an afterthought to Lucky. That’s where sites like this one are supposed to come in, but even I’ve had historic trouble keeping up with Lucky over the years. Making matters even more complicated, Ernest Tubb’s great nephew, and the torch-bearer of the Tubb name on the performance side of things also signed an exclusivity deal with Lone Star Music early in his career, meaning that the only place you can find his first three albums is At Lone Star’s Lucky Tubb store, making iTunes, Amazon, and other online stores Lucky Tubb-less.
On Halloween when he rolled through my area to play a show with the legendary Don Maddox, I made it a point to sit down with Lucky and let him answer some of our most pressing questions, which he was more than happy to do. Lucky also enlightened us on a new album he’s working on the moment tentatively titled Son of a Bad Man, and on the new faces making up his backing band “The Modern Day Troubadours.”
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The Triggerman: So I heard you say earlier that you’re out touring 220 days a year. But I get so many people emailing me saying, “What’s going on with Lucky Tubb?” There’s seems to be a disconnect of information.
Lucky Tubb: Boy you ain’t never lying about that. There’s a place you can go, it’s real easy. You can go to actionpackedevents.com, or you can go to luckytubb.nl. That will show you all the tour dates. And if you’re looking to buy the CD online, if you’re looking for Del Gaucho and you’re having a hard time, go to CD Baby, and you can get it there. I am doing everything I can to rectify all those communication lapses that have been happening.
The Triggerman: Well and I know you’ve been in Europe a lot. There was one time people were like, “Where’s Lucky Tubb? He’s disappeared off the face of the Earth.” And then I heard from some guy in France who said, “Yeah, I just saw him a week ago. He’s tearing it up out here.” You’ve been spending a lot of time in Europe, haven’t you?
Lucky Tubb: I love Europe. I do spent a lot of time there. I’ve got really great friends there, I have a great road manager. We’ve been over there about 9 times. It’s a lot of work but it’s also so rewarding to play for people who appreciate the music so much like they do. The response is so much better because they don’t get it all the time. It’s the Southern-ness, it’s the realness of it. It doesn’t have anything to do with being an American or even being from the Republic of Texas. They want to hear the legends. They want to hear those songs they grew up on, that were so hard for them to get until my uncle Ernest started distributing records overseas. He was the first one to ever distribute (country) records overseas.
The Triggerman: Through the Ernest Tubb Record Shops?
Lucky Tubb: Yep. That’s a fact. And he was the first one to ever play electric guitar on the Opry.
Lucky Tubb: Well you know we’ve played with Red Simpson, we did a tribute for my uncle Ernest in Nashville, Glenn Douglas my uncle, a bunch of the Troubadours were there. An all-star cast. It’s great to see those people. It’s an honor to play with them. Just to shake their hands. Because they can see where country’s going, you know all the different diversities like the Farmageddon crowd, the Hank3 crowd, the Lucky Tubb and Wayne Hancock crowd, they’re all the same crowd, but they’re all these different diversities of country music. Is it bluegrass? Is it cowpunk? Is it hillbilly? Well back in the day it was just country. Is it pop country, or mainstream country? It’s hard to put a face to the name sometimes.
The Triggerman: About a year-and-a-half ago at the Muddy Roots Festival you handed me this album called Del Gaucho that just blind-sided me. I had no idea you had a new album coming out. As I’m driving home from Tennessee to Texas, I pop this thing in and it’s like “Holy shit! Where did this come from?” It was completely out of the blue. It was a new sound and a new direction for you, yet at the same time exactly what you do. Where did the inspiration for that album come from?
Lucky Tubb: It was half recorded in Berlin, and half recorded in Texas. It was about a year-long process. Recording in Germany was different, and recording in Texas was different. Having both those scales of the spectrum, like the studio in Germany was 1934. 1/4-inch reel, no punch. If you mess up, you do the whole song over. It was intense. We’d make a mistake and they’d go, “Nein! Do it again!” There was 28 takes of “I Guess I’m A Fool”.
The Triggerman: Del Gaucho seemed like where it all came together. Like this is Lucky Tubb.
Lucky Tubb: I wanted to be Hank (Hank3) and Wayne (Hancock) on Generations. Those were my idols and they still are. I really drew off of them for Generations. I wanted to sound like them, I wanted to sing like them. And then there was so much time before Damn the Luck was recorded, and I’d written more and I’d toured more. And so I went into the studio and recorded that, and it came out a little bit more like Lucky. And then we did Hillbilly Fever, which was really a fun album. I think that’s my best album to date. But I love Del Gaucho because it raised the bar. I got to really truly do what I wanted to do.
The Triggerman: How about the new faces in the band?
Lucky Tubb: Casey Gill retired from this band after 8 years. He doesn’t even play shows any more, he watches shows. And he’s very happy in Austin. The new guitar player Zach Sweeny, he alternates from me and Wayne (Hancock). He’s that talented to where he can jump on either one. Anything you play, he can play it. And he’s 22 and he’s just going to get better. I have a lot of faith in his career. I’m sure he won’t be with me for a real long time. He’ll figure out there’s bigger, better things waiting for him. He has no vices to speak of. Doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink. Great driver after the show.
The Triggerman: So you’re working on a new record?
Lucky Tubb: Well, I’ve done a lot of time in Europe like we were talking about earlier. I was in Florida, had just got back from Europe and was really drained. And I met this band called “Son of a Bad Man”. And I thought, “What a great title for a record.” So I asked them if they minded if I write a song using their name and they said, “Naw, we’d love it.” So I’ve worked on that song and I’ve got that one in the can. So that’s basically the jest of the album. It’s gonna be more Outlaw, going kind of full circle. Like we talked about. We started with Wayne (Hancock) and Shelton (Hank3) on Generations. This one is going to be different. It’s gonna have a lot of bluegrass in it. Not even bluegrass, but banjo. There’s gonna be some banjo in there. I can tell you that. There’s gonna be twin fiddles. There’s gonna be steel guitar. There’s gonna be lead guitar. And it’s gonna be very torn down, to the point where were looking at the wood. And that’s kind of my plan for this record, to get it as gritty and dirty as possible. So we’ll be doing that one real soon.
We’ve already recorded two tracks in Holland. One is “Feel About You”, the Hank Williams tune. And the other one is “Hotel Prison”, which is basically about how when you’re on the road, even though you have the key to your room, you’re not free, because there’s always someone telling you what to sing and where to be. And your hotel room is actually your prison cell. They let you out to go play, and then you have to get right back in. And being a prisoner, I did five years, I was sitting in my hotel room one night and said, “I traded one for another!”
I mean, this one’s better by all means.
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