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It was November of 1985. Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash—long-time friends who traced their intertwined stories all the way back to when they shared an apartment together just outside of Nashville—were as close as ever, and sharing the stage as part of the supergroup The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. The song “Highwayman” had been one of 1985′s biggest hits, cresting at #1 and holding on the Billboard charts for 20 weeks on its way to becoming a Top 5 song of the entire year.
Amidst their success, Waylon had agreed to be a part of a “roasting” in Georgia to benefit the Spina Bifida Association of Atlanta, and all of his fellow Highwaymen, including Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash were scheduled to attend. Reporter Jack “Hawkeye” Hurst wrote briefly about the event on November 28th, 1985, and placed Johnny and June in Atlanta with Waylon, because that is where they were supposed to be according to the billing. But in truth Johnny and June were not there; they were in Jamaica. The Cash’s had a home called “Cinnamon Hill” on the Caribbean island which Waylon and his wife Jessi often visited, and while hiding away in their Jamaican home, Johnny and June missed the Atlanta roast. How do we know this?
As part of the liquidation of Waylon’s Arizona estate currently underway, a letter from Johnny Cash to Waylon has been made public for the first time. To make it up to Waylon for not attending the roast, Johnny Cash (or someone on his behalf) took to a typewriter, and in the spirit of a proper roasting, wrote a letter to Waylon that was equally apologetic for missing the event as it was pointedly sarcastic toward his old friend.
The Johnny Cash letter to Waylon Jennings is a testament to the friendship and closeness the two men shared, and the respect each man felt for respective wives.
The letter, along with hundreds of personal effects, including reams of other written paper matter, is scheduled to be auctioned off by Guernsey’s Auctioneers on Sunday, Oct. 5th.
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Waylon, this roast shouldn’t hurt you too much tonight, because your brain is already fried. Seriously, I wanted to be there so bad, but I have been told that the only way to get from Jamaica to Atlanta is to travel. I sincerely hope you will accept this honest reason. We miss you and Shooter. Did you ever find out who Shooter’s mother is . . . . . I love you, Jessi, don’t I June? Jessi, you are one of the few truly great women I have met in my entire life. As soon as we get home, we want you to find Waylon’s clothes that he is going to wear that day, then show him where the car keys are, and come to see us. Waylon, I love you, don’t I God? Just remember if you’re ever down to your last dollar, if all your old friends turn their backs on you, if you’re so low that you wish you could die, just remember, I’ll always be . . . . . . . . .
I don’t know how Marty Stuart does it. He’s like Gandalf on the back of his white steed, galloping here and there and everywhere in his pursuit to save country music. He’s scouring the country to secure important country music artifacts for preservation. He’s opening a cultural center in his hometown. He’s starring in The Marty Stuart Show and touring constantly. And here he is releasing a double album through his Superlatone record label.
Saturday Night / Sunday Morning unfolds just like its title implies. The first album is the secular country music fare you’ve come used to hearing from Marty Stuart with his mainstay backing band of recent years The Fabulous Superlatives, where the telecasters are loud and twangy, and the style is honky tonk and traditional. Then the second album unfolds very much like you would expect if you’ve heard Marty Stuart and the Superlatives perform their version of rocking country Gospel and a cappella compositions with their captivating four-part harmonies. It’s Gospel, but it’s Marty Stuart Gospel. It’s electric, with a vitality and energy not always heard in the discipline.
Like his mentor Johnny Cash, as Marty Stuart has grown older, he’s evidenced an increasingly deeper appreciation for Gospel music. Most any Marty Stuart album is going to boast a Gospel song or two, but with this release he takes the time to make an entire album of religiously-inspired music. Marty actually released another Gospel album called The Gospel Music of Marty Stuart somewhat quietly in April that includes live performances of many recognizable Gospel songs regularly performed on The Marty Stuart Show. But Saturday Night / Sunday Morning is Stuart putting his personal stamp on Gospel, and making sure to serve both sides of his fan base by not just including Gospel songs exclusively.
If you think about it, this strategy is pretty smart. Unfortunately, some listeners are turned off when they hear an album is only going to include religious material. You combine two albums together, and you can lead right into it since folks are already listening. It’s like your mother giving you sugar with the medicine. Next thing you know, you’re appreciating the Gospel music just as much as Marty’s other stuff, if not more.
Saturday Night / Sunday Morning should not be considered a concept album. There’s no deep-seated story with recurring characters or themes referenced throughout like Marty’s landmark concept album The Pilgrim from 1999. The two albums are more just a style and approach delineation, though like all of Marty’s music, there are still important themes and messages to heed, hard lessons learned, harrowing stories, and personal awakenings to be had amongst these 23 new tracks.
Marty gives us a lot of music to crunch through in this release, and a lot of notable appearances. Included on Saturday Night / Sunday Morning beyond the Fabulous Superlatives is Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, who makes appearances throughout the Saturday Night album. Both Hargus and and Willie Nelson’s long-time harmonica player Mickey Raphael pretty much carry the second song “Geraldine.” The great Mavis Staples makes an important appearance to begin the Sunday Morning portion of the release, lending her vocal talents to the classic “Uncloudy Day.” And Evelyn Hubbard also shows up on the Gospel album. Who is Evelyn Hubbard you ask? Well she’s a pastor at the Commerce Missionary Baptist Church in Robinsonville, Mississippi of course.
Saturday Night / Sunday Morning begins with Marty Stuart reviving the sound that has graced his records since enlisting the Superlatives as his backing band. Though people talk about the great guitar-slinging frontmen of country music today like Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, the combination of Marty Stuart and “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan makes for about the best Telecaster-based country music you can find these days, and based not just off of technique, but off of tone and taste. Since Saturday Night is chased by Gospel, Marty and the boys put the pedal down on the first album and rarely let off. Think of old school honky tonk country rock.
The middle of this album gets just a little bit sleepy. There’s a decent amount of covers on this record, and in stretches you feel like Marty is doing a little too much interpreting of old song styles than offering more original-sounding material like on recent albums. But there’s not a slouch anywhere on this track list either.
Sunday Morning continuously builds toward the end of the album, to where the brilliant four part harmonies of Marty, “Cousin” Kenny, “Handsome” Harry Stinson, and “Apostle” Paul Martin unfold into some brilliant, and spine-tingling works of inspirational music. For years the foursome has been performing one of the best renditions of “Angels Rock Me To Sleep” ever bestowed to human ears, and we finally get a recorded version of this masterpiece. And the album resolves in the mostly-a cappella original “Heaven” that is so haunting and touching, it should be considered one of the essential recordings of Marty Stuart’s entire career.
Once again Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives prove they are at the core of keeping the traditions of country music alive, while doing so in a manner that is energetic, inviting, informed, and broad-based where people of all stripes—the Saturday night and Sunday morning people—can come together and enjoy the gift of good country music together.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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When Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their chart configurations in October of 2012, it was predicted at the time by many that these changes would fundamentally modify the industry in historic ways, ushering in an era where popular American music would rapidly succumb to the monogenre, and distinctions of separate genres would slowly become irrelevant. Artists who did not occupy the “crossover” realm would see diminished significance, and music would all begin to sound the same.
Subsequently that is exactly what we have seen, and the fingerprints of Billboard 2012′s rules changes can be found all over malevolent trends in country music, including the rise of “Bro-Country,” the institution of rap and EDM elements in country in a widespread manner, and the continued struggles of the genre to support and develop female artists. And country music is not alone. The Billboard rap charts have seen similar homogenization, at least in part because of the new rules. Virtually every individual genre’s charts, and thus the music itself and how it’s manufactured and marketed, have been affected in fundamental ways by these changes. And it may about to get much worse.
Many of the changes Billboard made to their charts in October of 2012 were not only necessary, they were much past due. Rating consumer interactions such as streams on Spotify and plays on YouTube were important to give both consumers and industry professionals a better illustration of the importance and performance of a given track. The problematic change was a rule governing “crossover” material. It allowed artists such as Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, and Florida Georgia Line to receive credit for radio play and other consumer activity in the pop world on the genre specific country charts. This restricted the ability for artists with no crossover appeal to be successful in their genre specific rankings, while artists that released rap remixes, or songs that appealed to pop radio as well as country to fare much greater.
But the October 2012 changes Billboard implemented didn’t fundamentally change the structure of the charts themselves. You still had an album chart, based off of how many cohesive albums—physical or digital—a given artist sold in a week period. You still had the airplay charts, which ranked songs specifically by how many spins DJ’s gave them across the country. And you had the Hot Songs chart, which now took into consideration crossover data, and a new suite of streaming and other consumer interaction data, but it was still the same fundamental chart meant to give a more broad picture of a song’s impact.
Now that all might change. Or at least, these traditional charts may be so significantly diminished in importance, they are rendered virtually insignificant, especially the album charts. And once again, with these chart changes could come fundamental musical changes from the industry to try and take advantage of these new metrics.
This new, sweeping system is currently being called the “Consumption Chart,” and it is presently being constructed by Billboard in conjunction with Nielsen SoundScan—the company that aggregates consumer data, including sales, streams, YouTube views, and other data that goes into building Billboard’s charts. Billboard and SoundScan are currently tweaking on the specifics of the new chart—one of which is how to aggregate streaming data, which is currently being tabulated by hand.Â Though there is no hard and fast date of when the Consumption Chart may be rolled out, the word from HITS Daily Double is that Billboard hopes to have it in place by the very beginning of next year so that when the new music ranking system starts, it can have an entire year to give a more cohesive picture to both consumers and industry.
One of the strange aspects about Billboard’s 2012 changes is since they happened in not just the middle of a year, but in the middle of a business quarter, it created a dirty data situation where the rules governing songs changed in the middle of the game. There was also little to no warning ahead of the changes being made. Billboard’s new rules came somewhat unexpectedly and were implemented immediately. Though indications are the roll out of the Consumption Chart will wait until the end of the year, especially since Billboard and SoundScan want to give themselves proper lead time to make sure their system is road tested and debugged before being debuted to the public, there’s no guarantee we may not wake up one morning and find that the way music is measured has been massively overhauled yet again.
What Is The Billboard Consumption Chart?
To put it simply, The Billboard Consumption Chart would be a combination of an album and a song chart. Instead of just considering physical album sales to gauge an album’s performance, the new chart would take song plays from streaming data and turn them into equivalent album sales. The idea is to bridge the gap between artists who receive a lot of streaming interaction but have marginal physical sales, and artists who have strong physical sales but don’t experience a lot of streaming activity. All indications are that Billboard hopes that this new Consumption Chart will become the industry standard for rating music.
According to HITS Daily Double:
The weekly chart will combine album and track sales with audio and video streams, assigning an equivalent-album value to each, as in the TEA metric, theoretically providing a more accurate and comprehensive representation of modern-day music consumption … Billboardâs album sales chart will remain in place, but most observers believe it will take on decreasing importance over time as the business acclimates itself to the new system … In some respects, the consumption chart will mirror the present sales charts in that sales and streaming tend to correlate, with certain exceptions … Overall, the most dramatic effect of the consumption chart will be to lengthen the tails of bona fide hits by measuring their aftermarket impact, potentially providing the labels with additional time in which to market these hits.
A mock up of the new chart was made last week, and the biggest takeaway was that albums for artists whose consumers mostly listen to songs on Spotify and YouTube instead of actually purchasing the album received a significant boost in the new metric by making “album equivalent” gains from the amount of streams and plays songs received. For example, the album Settle by the EDM duo Disclosure went from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of these “album equivalent” streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new Consumption Chart reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16.
How The Consumption Chart Could Hurt Older and Independent Artists
What this all means is that artists who do well with physical album sales and digital downloads could be significantly diminished in this new system, while artists who primarily have their music heard through streaming methods will see a significant boost. This could immediately put older artists, and independent artists at a significant disadvantage.
Recently we have seen older country artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joe Shaver set career chart records with their album releases because these artist’s older fan bases are one of the few demographics left that actually buy albums. But since these artist’s streaming footprint is significantly less, this new Consumption Chart would see them fare significantly worse compared to the current system.
Same could be said for many independent artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, whose fan bases are more likely to buy physical albums to help support the artist. These artists have seen significant boosts from chart performances recently, and this could go away under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White could also see diminishing returns from the new charting system.
Since these charts are used to gauge the importance and impact an artist has in the marketplace, a diminishing of them on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. Once again, just like Billboard’s 2012 chart rules, the new system very well may create even a greater discrepancy between the have’s and have not’s of music, and see more attention paid to the biggest artists, the biggest songs, and the biggest albums.
One big question for the Consumption Chart is if it takes into consideration the greater commitment a consumer shows by purchasing a physical album or downloading an entire copy instead of streaming an individual song or consuming it in a free environment such as YouTube. Does it also take into consideration that these physical and digital sales generally result in more revenue for the artist, the labels, and the industry as a whole? Where streaming is currently gutting the industry, physical sales are one of the the last bastions of revenue, including vinyl sales which are on the rapid increase.
Once again, certain changes are probably necessary to Billboard’s charts to take into consideration the new realities of consumer’s consumption habits when it comes to music. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of artists who are already struggling under the current system.
The good news is that this Consumption Chart has yet to be implemented, and so there is still time to understand what its impact might be and game plan for it, or even to influence the direction it might take before it is rolled out. This opportunity did not pose itself in 2012.
And as Billboard will probably point out, there’s no plans to put away the purely sales-based album chart. But many industry experts believe it will be significantly diminished under the new system. Some believe this new system could be dead on arrival, while others think it is necessary to keep Billboard’s relevance in the marketplace alive.
As HITS Daily Double asks, “In what ways will attempts be made to manipulate the new chart, and what new games will labels play in order to get a leg up on the competition? Will the consumption chart mean the end of the SoundScan-era emphasis on the first week of release, or will the majors figure out new ways to max out that total?”
Either way, if the changes made by Billboard in 2012 were any indication, the Consumption Chart could have a significant impact on music much beyond simply how it is measured.
Harris Interactive has just released a new poll that queried the American public about their favorite music artists, musicians, and bands, and some noteworthy country music names made the list. When pollsters asked for unprompted responses to the question, “Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”—George Strait was the 5th highest answer, and the highest amongst country music stars. Garth Brooks also made the top 10, coming in tied for 7th with The Eagles, Celine Dion, and Neil Diamond.
Willie Nelson also made the top of two of the lists broken down by demographics, even though he did not make the top 10 overall. Willie was the favorite artist of “Mature Adults” (69 or older), and was tied with The Beatles for the favorite musical artist amongst Republicans (despite Willie’s left-leaning politics). The Beatles came in #1 overall in the poll, right in front of Elvis at #2.
What is even more interesting for country music fans is who is not on the list, and who slipped off the list since the same poll was conducted the last time in 2010. Four years ago, Tim McGraw was #5, Rascal Flatts was #8, and Alan Jackson was #9. None of these country artists made the top 10 again. In 2010 George Strait was #7 in the poll.
With all three of the country entries into this year’s poll being more classically-oriented artists, and none of them being current stars (where is Taylor Swift in this poll?), it speaks to the continued appeal of older country artists and classic country music we’ve seen in similar studies by Edison Research, and in the move to split the country format to give more radio representation to older artists.
The younger artists that made the top 10 of the poll were BeyoncĂ© at #3, and Bruno Mars at #6 who was potentially boosted by his recent Super Bowl appearance.
The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between July 16th and July 21st, 2014 among 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
“Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”
Base: All adults
DROPPED OFF OF LIST IN 2014
U2 (was No. 2), Tim McGraw (was No. 5), Lady Gaga (was No. 6), Rascal Flatts (was No. 8) and Alan Jackson and Frank Sinatra (both ties for No. 9)
TOP MUSICIAN AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS
|Gen X (38-49)||
|Baby Boomers (50-68)||
|Parent of child under 18||
|Not parent of child under 18||
Ever since the partnership between radio owner Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group called NASH Icon was proposed, the big question has been if it will it result in the country music radio format splitting in two. Country music is one of the last genres to resist splintering, but as Top 40 country continues to abandon older economically-viable artists, it has become a necessity to give older artists a home somewhere on the radio dial.
After a conference call on Monday (8-25) with Cumulus Media’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Dickey (brother of President and CEO Lew Dickey), all speculation about whether a country split will happen can be put to bed, at least if Cumulus has anything to say about it. Country Music is splitting, and will eventually constitute two completely different formats. And though you may still hear Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line on the new format upon occasion, you will also hear Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, George Strait, and many other artists that were relevant in the 80′s and 90′s that mainstream country has abandoned.
“It is time for country to fragment,” John Dickey said plainly on the conference call, while offering more detailed insight than ever into exactly what NASH Icon will look like when it’s rolled out. Cumulus launched 15 initial NASH Icon stations recently, but says it won’t be until 2015 before everything is completely up an running.
Why does country music need to fragment into two formats? John Dickey explains.
“Country today is the largest format in terms of appeal and market share, certainly the last of its size that hasn’t fragmented. To me it wasn’t a question of will the format fragment, but when. And that time has come. The whole idea around NASH Icon is to create a parallel universe in country. Not a flanking format, but another platform for artists that were extremely prolific in the mid to late â80s, â90s and early to mid 2000s to regain some of that relevancy again. Unlike other attempts to fragment this format … this is really based on solid metrics, the depth, appeal, and attraction of these artists, the low burn of their music (meaning people still enjoy it), and the fact that they’re not present in country on the radio.”
Forget the 25-Year, “Classic” Country Window
When NASH Icon was first announced, the Cliff Notes version of what it would feel like was centered around country music’s “Class of ’89″ with artists like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson. However NASH Icon’s range will be much wider, going deeper into the 80′s than 1989, and ranging all the way up to present-day hits.
“The format is going to be about 25% current-driven, and that’s going to increase as some of these artists … get into the studio and start to put out new music,” says Dickey
In other words, older artists who were relevant in the 80′s and 90′s, but who put out new music today, will have a home on NASH Icon for brand new singles.
“The balance is going to be made up from calls from the 80′s, 90′s, and 2000′s, predominantly anchored in the 90′s and 2000′s, with a little bit of ’80′s. But this format is really all about the face cards—the big artists from that 20-25 year period of time, mixed in with artists from today that make sense and have a sound that fits and is compatible.”
Dickey also addresses so-called “Bro-Country,” saying, “You wonât hear a lot of what we affectionately term in the business today as ‘Bro-Country.” This is a format that I can expect to be competitive 25-34, but like Hot AC, is really going to find a sweet spot 30-50.”
However if you look at the playlist of one of the recently-launched NASH Icon stations, you can find plays for songs like Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night,” or “Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here.” Those plays may disappear over time as the format tweaks itself, but at the moment, there is a discrepancy between John Dickey’s words, and the NASH Icon playlists. Those “current” songs may also be replaced by new songs from older artists, once those songs are released to the new format.
John Dickey and Cumulus do not see NASH Icon as second-rate country music programing. They see it living side-by-side with Top 40, competing aggressively, if not challenging country music as a whole to step up its game.
“[It is] already resonating big time and is only going to snowball and pick up more steam,” Dickey says. “As we continue to build out this platform, people will see this format is capable at playing at the biggest levels alongside where mainstream country is. This can stand side-by-side with mainstream country, and not Cannibalize it, but grow the total shares in the markets. What it’s going to do … is shape the creative community in Nashville, or motivate them a little bit more on some music that they probably haven’t been able to find the right home for. And I’m talking about specifically the writing community.“
The content glut of worthy songs that are not finding artists to cut them has been a side story to the Top 40, “Bro-Country” dominance of the format currently. We’ve heard people ranging from T Bone Burnett to Garth Brooks say that the amount and quality of songs waiting to be heard is astounding. There just hasn’t been an outlet for substantive material in country music for some time.
What Else To Expect
“There will be a morning show out of our NASH campus that will be purposed for NASH Icon,” John Dickey says. “It will be different than what we’re doing with NASH and ‘America’s Morning Show’ with Blair Garner. It’s going to [have] more of a living room setting and be more music intensive, but more interview-driven. Artists will come in and sit alongside the host of the show … I expect that to be online by the end of the year. With respect to any other day parts, there is nothing planned at this point that we would syndicate.”
“Westwood One is going to be offering NASH Icon as a format to affiliates starting almost immediately. We’re going to build on Stork platform, on what we call our localized format; completely customizable for any market. The Stork technology allows for somebody to take any day part or piece of the format that we offer and customize that around any live day parts that happen to be running … That technology allows for a very customized sound and custom feel to the format.”
This is where Cumulus and NASH differ from their biggest national competitor, Clear Channel. Clear Channel does not allow local formats to customize in many cases, breeding national homogenization to local formats. However many times local NASH affiliates still decide to go with national programming because the cost is cheaper than hiring local talent.
John Dickey also says that he expects Big Machine Records to begin announcing NASH Icon artists for the record label “sooner rather than later, probably within the next 30 to 60 days.”
What This All Means
As we can already see from the discrepancy between what John Dickey is saying about “Bro-Country” and what is showing up on playlists, it is going to take some time for NASH Icon to get its feet under itself and smooth out all the wrinkles. Regardless of who is being played from the current crop of mainstream country stars, you can also see from both the current NASH Icon playlists, and John Dickey’s words that older artist will once again be found on the radio airwaves, and not just on small, “classic” country stations. This new format also doesn’t threaten to Cannibalize those existing independent classic country stations unless they’re directly converted to a NASH Icon affiliate by Cumulus, because those listeners are not going to want to listen to Luke Bryan mixed in with their Randy Travis and Willie Nelson. But the format will potentially introduce those older artists to an entirely new audience, and challenge Top 40 country to deliver a little more variety and substance, or force listeners to switch channels.
One of the big questions that still remains is if Clear Channel—the #1 radio station owner in the country—will launch its own answer to NASH Icon.
Call it Bro-Country, call it just plain bad, but Merle Haggard apparently prefers to call the puss oozing from the open sore that is modern-day radio country “Boogie Boogie Wham-Bam.” And hey, he’s Merle freaking Haggard, so he can call it whatever the hell he wants.
While speaking with David Menconi of Chapel Hill’s News Observer ahead of his show at UNC-Chapel Hillâs Memorial Hall Saturday night, when asked if he listens to much modern country, Merle Haggard said:
“Iâve gotta be honest, I donât really listen to the radio at all anymore. Once in a while, Iâll scan it and I donât understand what theyâre doing. I canât find the entertainment in it. I know these guys, occasionally play shows with them and theyâre all good people. But I wonder if that record theyâre making is something they can actually do. Too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance. Itâs all the same musicians, too, probably eight to ten musicians play on every record you hear. For a musician hearing things that way, you can tell when a certain guitarist is playing. I know more about the musicians than the artists, actually.”
It’s all the same eight to ten songwriters too, and this is one of the many reasons most modern-day radio country sounds the same. Merle’s observation that “I wonder if that record theyâre making is something they can actually do” is similar to Tom Petty’s recent observations about modern music and the infiltration of electronic elements when he said, “You put your name on it, but you didnât do that.”
Though Merle says the “lack of radio play for the new stuff makes it difficult,” he is still working on new music, and has multiple projects planned.
“Weâve got four different album projects that are all almost finished, and weâll bring them out in continuity … You know, if they put on a new song of mine, theyâve gotta take off ‘Mama Tried.’ So Iâm kind of fighting myself on new releases.”
Merle has also been rumored to be a part of a “Three Musketeers” project with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.
Merle is not known for being as outspoken about the direction of country music as some of his elder country peers, but he has been known to get heated in the past. In one legendary moment, he told CBS Records executive Rick Blackburn, “Who do you think you are? Youâre the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that youâre the dumbest son-of-a-bitch Iâve ever met.â
In early August it was revealed that Guernseyâs Auctions out of New York City was preparing to auction off 2,000 items from the Waylon Jennings estate in Chandler, Arizona, with the proceeds going to the Phoenix Childrenâs Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylonâs widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Now even more details of the auction items have been revealed as the auction house has made a detailed auction guide available for pre-order.
The items will be made available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Included in the auction is a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams. Thereâs also an authentic set of Willie Nelsonâs famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylonâs newly-found sobriety. Thereâs also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. Thereâs also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979 (read more).
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JDâs in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylonâs Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
For more information on the auction, visit www.guernseys.com.
Braids Willie Nelson gave to Waylon after he found sobriety.
“Storms Never Last” Bronze Bust
Waylon’s Stage Chair
Waylon’s Personal Rolex Submariner Watch
Porsche Design Sunglasses & Case
Porsche Design Sunglasses
Partner Desk Given to Waylon by Johnny Cash in 1985
Original contract forming the supergroup The Highwaymen.
Photo Display from the Music Row Museum
Muhammad Aliâs Training Gloves
Muhammad Aliâs Ring Robe Presented to Waylon Jennings by Ali in 1978
Letter from John Lennon To Waylon
Original Black Crayon Drawing of Johnny Cash by William Nelson
Hat Worn by Hank Williams Jr. During a Live Performance
Nomination Plaque for âMamas Donât Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboysâ
Fender Custom Shop Waylon Jennings Telecaster
Waylonâs Favorite Pair of Lucchese Boots
Engraved ST Dupont Black Chinese Lacquer and Gold Lighter c. 1970s
Hank Williamsâ Custom-made Nudie Cowboy Boots
Costume Worn by Jennings in Sesame Streetâs Follow That Bird
âThe Buddy Holly Daysâ
Baume Mercier Watch
Nashville Rebel Poster with Autograph
Autographed Nashville RebelÂ Poster WITH ORIGINAL SHARKEYâS POSTER
1943 Martin Guitar 00021
The Highwayman Goes Gold
Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth.
2014 has been a retrenching of sorts for many of country music’s legacy artists. Dolly Parton and Billy Joe Shaver have released albums after multi-year hiatuses from the studio, and to high praise and successful chart performances. The release of Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among The Stars treated classic country fans to an entire album’s worth of unheard material and collaborations with stars who’ve passed on, including Waylon Jennings and June Carter.
The song “It Ain’t You” off of Ray Benson’s album A Little Piece continues this trend of offering both something unheard, but something wrought during the living era of a legendary artist, and paid forward with reverence and care by those still around who are inspired by their legacy.
Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines. Benson was blown away that nobody had ever recorded the “undiscovered gem,” and he called up Willie Nelson who agreed to do the song with Ray. Willie recorded his part in his Western ghost town of Luck, TX. With Ray being 64, and Willie being 81, but both performers being very much in charge of their faculties and charging forward with their music careers, the pairing was perfect to embody the theme of “It Ain’t You” about growing old but staying young.
“It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. It has the similar self-reflective and age-recognizing tone of other Waylon-performed songs like “Memories of You And I”—pondering one’s own mortality and how age sees the sifting of abilities through your fingers. At the same time there’s a defiant strength woven through the lines; a reassurance that even though wrinkles may appear on the surface, the soul of a man continues to become refined over time.
The music, and both Ray Benson’s and Willie’s performances are chilling enough, but the video for “It Ain’t You” takes it a step further, fully understanding what’s at the heart of the song, and pulling out all the stops to not only do the song justice, but enhance the experience through the visual medium. The wisdom of knowing what the simple sight of Willie’s battle-worn hands can stir in the beholder, while crafting a way to capture the spirit of the long-time friendship between Ray and Willie so purely is worth watching even if the song itself doesn’t strike a particular chord with the listener.
Even without the legacies of Ray Benson, Asleep At The Wheel, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Gary Nicholson behind it, “It Ain’t You” would still be a song for the ages. Like the song’s writers, caretakers, and performers, it is destined to grow in stature over time.
Two guns up!
41 years, 26 albums, 11 different record labels, and one Outlaw country legend who had never experienced a charting album beyond a mere blip on the Christian charts a few years ago …. until now. Billy Joe Shaver, and his first album in seven years entitled Long In The Tooth has gone where no other Billy Joe Shaver album has gone before—to the Top 20 of Billboard’s country album’s chart. Coming in at #19, it marks Shaver’s first entry in the album chart ever, and his placing at #157 in the all-genre category is his first appearance in that chart as well.
The news comes after a strong push for the album that sees Billy Joe’s old friend Willie Nelson lend his voice to the opening track, “Hard To Be An Outlaw”. Willie Nelson also featured two Billy Joe Shaver songs on his recent album Band of Brothers, fueling the flames of Shaver interest. Fans waited seven years for the 74-year-old Shaver to finally put out another album of original music, and Long In The Tooth finds Billy Joe sitting tall in the saddle, shouting and spitting, brandishing his fists and taking potshots, and shining in moments of unexpected sentimentality.
Billy Joe Shaver joins a resurgent crowd of country music greats whoâve enjoyed renewed chart success recently, including Willie Nelson whose Band of Brothers album became his first #1 in 28 years, and his highest showing ever on Billboardâs all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Dolly Partonâs May release Blue Smoke gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cashâs posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200.
Why all the surprising chart success for older country music artists in 2014? Itâs partly because the fans of older country music stars actually buy albums instead of streaming them online, or just downloading individual songs. This makes older artists more lucrative for labels, and allows the artists to outpace their much younger competition on the charts. It proves that country musicâs older artists can deliver when theyâre given a chance, even without radio play.
Meanwhile Willie Nelson’s Band of Brothers album remains in Billboard’s Top 25 of country albums for an eighth straight week, coming in at #22 this week.
As one of the primary members of country music’s “Class of ’89″ that’s regularly given credit for veering country music into a too commercial direction, Alan Jackson seems to never be given enough credit for being one of the genre’s staunch traditionalists that has stood up for the roots and the legends of country music arguably more than any other mainstream star, and just as much (if not more) than The Outlaws of the 70′s did. When you sit back and reflect on his now legendary career that has seen the sale of over 80 million records and seen Alan amass dozens of industry awards, there is no question Alan Jackson deserves the distinction of being an ultimate country music badass.
More in this series:
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Wanda Jackson Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
- 10 Badass Kris Kristofferson Moments
1. Starting His Career in the TNN Mailroom
Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings got their start in music as DJ’s. Kris Kristofferson started out as a janitor in the Columbia studios. For those with music in their blood, they will do whatever it takes to get their foot in the door of the music business. For Alan Jackson, it was getting a job in the mailroom of The Nashville Network’s offices.
Jackson was born in Newnan, Georgia, and grew up in a house built out of his grandfather’s old tool shed. Jackson’s mom still lives in the house to this day. Jackson had been married to his high school sweetheart Denise for 6 years before deciding to move to Nashville to pursue music full time. Once they hit Music City, Jackson needed to do something to support the household, and TNN was hiring. He later met Glen Campbell and the rest is history.
2. Wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt on the 1994 ACM Awards
Today this would be no big deal. In fact it would probably be considered an upgrade from some of the ridiculous regalia many modern-day country stars get duded up in on award shows. But in 1994, country music’s prime time presentations were still very much black tie affairs. And here comes Alan Jackson walking out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It would pale in comparison to what would happen next on the show (see below), but Alan bucking the black tie dress code was scandalous on its own, and was probably meant as its own protest against the ACM’s stuffy atmosphere and a presentation that showed little reverence to the roots of the music.
Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, âHere you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?â
Jacksonâs response was, âWell, I love Hank, and a fanâŠI get a lot of gifts on the road playing, and a fan gave me this shirt, and I just saw it in the closet before I came out here this weekend and I grabbed it and said, âIâm gonna wear it for my song,â you know, âGone Country.â Hankâs country.â
3. Protesting The Backing Track on the 1994 ACM Awards
The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jacksonâs oyster. Held at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on May 3rd, Alan walked away that night with the Top Male Vocalist award, and co-hosted the event with Reba McEntire. But when it came to performing what would be his upcoming #1 single and one of the signature songs of the era âGone Countryâ, Alan Jackson couldnât sit right with the charade most country award shows pull on their audience.
Before the show, producers told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded rhythm section track, which Jackson clearly felt was tantamount to lying to both his fans and the audience. So instead of playing along with the charade, Jackson tipped off the audience to the subterfuge by telling his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play without sticks. So as the performance transpires and everything sounds perfect, there is Alan Jacksonâs drummer, swinging his arms like heâs playing the drums, but with no sticks in his hand.
Trust the ACM’s never asked Alan Jackson to play to a backing track again. And this wouldn’t be the last time Alan Jackson would pull a fast one on award show producers….
4. The “Pop A Top / Choices” George Jones CMA Awards Protest
Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices”. George, feeling that he wasnât a âbaby actâ as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song âPop A Topâ, cut his own song short, and launched into Georgeâs âChoices”.
ââWe were all so nervous,â Alan Jackson later recalled. âThe guitarist had this solo in the middle of âPop a Topâ, and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start âChoicesâ. â
As you can see in the video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jonesâ comeback hit.
5. Releasing Under The Influences Tribute Album
During the height of Alan Jackson’s commercial success, he decided to do something rarely seen in modern day country from a superstar: he released an album made entirely of classic country covers. Including two songs from Johnny Paycheck, a cover of Merle Haggard’s “My Own Kind Of Hat”, and Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Blues Man”, Jackson’s label heads must have thought he was crazy. The album was Jackson’s way of pushing back against the pop-ification of country that was becoming a hot topic in the genre at the time.
What was the result?
It was a big success. Though it can be argued that an album of more original music might have done better, Under The Influences went Platinum, and included two hit singles. Nat Stuckey’s “Pop A Top” ended up at #6 on Billboards Country Songs chart, and Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” first made famous by Don Williams went all the way to #1. Alan Jackson proved that the classic country sound was still relevant, and commercially viable if given a chance.
6. Recording and Writing “3 Minute Positive Not Too Country Up Tempo Love Song”
Not since Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs & Waltzes”, and arguably no other song since has protested pop country’s propensity for commercialization and shallowness as well as this loquaciously-titled song written by Alan Jackson himself for his 2000 release When Somebody Loves You.
7. Recording “Murder On Music Row” with George Strait
Arguably one of the most important country music protest songs in the history of the genre, “Murder On Music Row” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell became a big success when Alan Jackson joined up with George Strait to release the song in 2000. The duo first performed the song in 1999 at the CMA Awards, and the next year the performance won the CMA for “Vocal Event of the Year.” Then the following year when it was released on George Strait’s Latest Greatest Straitest Hits album, it was awarded the CMA for “Song of the Year.” That’s right, a song talking about how country music had been murdered on Music Row walked away with the genre’s highest distinction for a song.
Even though the song was never released as a single, unsolicited airplay still saw the song chart on Billboard at #38. At George Strait’s final concert in June of 2014, the duo performed the song again to the largest crowd to ever see an indoor live music event
8. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”
In stark contrast to the inflammatory nature of Toby Keith’s post-911 ĂŒber hit “Courtesy Of The Red, White, & Blue”, Alan Jackson did his best to humanize and come to peace with the tragedy of 9-11 through song, and it resulted in both his most critical and commercial success of his career. Written by Jackson himself, when he first played it for label executives, there was complete silence in the room for a full minute after it stopped. Jackson was scheduled to perform his current #1 song “Where I Come From” at the 2001 CMA awards in November, but mere days before the presentation, he decided to play “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” instead. The four CMA heads were not happy about this decision until Jackson’s tour manager Nancy Russell played the song for them. They were all crying by the time the song ended.
After Jackson played the song on the CMA Awards, demand for it skyrocketed. The song was so new, his label hadn’t officially released it as a single yet, but stations already with a copy started playing it, and the song shot to #25 on the Billboard Country Songs chart almost immediately. By the next week it was at #12, and by the end of the year, it was #1 where it stayed for five weeks. It also charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #28.
Jackson’s label couldn’t make the song a commercial single fast enough to meet demand, so they instead decided to move up the release date of his album Drive from May of 2002 to January 15th. When the album was released, it went to #1 on both Billboard’s country and all-genre charts, and stayed there for four weeks off the strength of the song. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” eventually won both the “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year” from both the CMA and ACM Awards, as well as the Grammy for “Best Country Song.” It also helped propel Alan Jackson to be awarded both “Male Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” by the CMA Awards in both 2002 and 2003.
Jackson said about the song, “I think it was Hank Williams who said, ‘God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.’ That’s the way I felt with this song.”
9. Being Nominated For The Most CMA’s Ever In One Year
Bolstered by his song “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, Alan Jackson received a total of ten CMA nominations in 2002—the most in CMA history. Jackson won five of them.
- 2002 Album of the Year – Drive (Won)
- 2002 Male Vocalist of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Entertainer of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Vocal Event of the YearÂ – “Designated Drinker” w/ George Strait (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
10. Keeping Virtually The Same Band & Producer Throughout His Entire Career
Every single one of Alan Jackson’s 15 major label album releases has been produced by Keith Stegall. Even when Jackson switched labels from Arista, Stegall stayed on board.
Jackson has also kept virtually the same band the entire time, aside from using a few bluegrass ringers for The Bluegrass Album. The loyalty Alan Jackson shows in his people, and his people’s loyalty in him, is both a sign of integrity and success.
- Monty AllenÂ â acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
- Scott ConeyÂ â acoustic guitar, tic tac bass, banjo
- Robbie FlintÂ â steel guitar
- Danny GroahÂ â lead guitar
- Ryan Joseph – fiddle, harmony vocals
- Bruce RutherfordÂ â drums
- Joey SchmidtÂ â keyboards
- Roger WillsÂ â bass guitar
More in this series:
Since the Johnny Cash Museum opened in downtown Nashville in May 2013, it has become one of Music City’s must-see spots and an international destination point for country music fans and Johnny Cash fans alike. Barely a year has passed since its initial opening and the museum is already tackling its first new addition. On August 15th, the museum will unveil its “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit celebrating the legendary Memphis studio that gave rise to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course, The Man in Black himself.
âJohnny Cash began his musical career at Sun Records,” says Johnny Cash Museum Founder Bill Miller. “Sun was the launch pad for several young men whose music would forever impact the world. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny came from similar backgrounds and humble beginnings. Once they walked through the door at the Memphis Recording Service, their lives would never be the same. We are proud to showcase Johnny’s labelmates from this historic period in rock and roll history.âÂ
The Legends of Sun Records exhibit will showcase many artifacts and much information about the original class of Sun Records stars, but one man, and one particular piece of memorabilia might be worth paying a little bit of extra attention to.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland is not a name that is as familiar to music fans as the other big Sun Recordings stars, but his significance to early country and rock & roll cannot be overstated.
W.S. Holland was Johnny Cash’s drummer for 40 years, and is considered by many as the “Father of the Drums.” When he joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1960, the famous “Tennessee Two” officially became the “Tennessee Three,” but it was a fluke the drummer joined the band at all, leading to his now inseparable nickname.
W.S. Holland never intended to be a drummer. He was raised in Bemis, TN and worked for an air conditioning company after high school. He was a big music fan, and would go out after work to see Carl Perkins play with his two brothers at a local bar. Holland used to beat his hands on the side of the upright bass to the rhythm of music, and on a whim the Perkins clan invited Holland on a trip to Sun Records, and told him to borrow a drum set to play. One thing led to another, and W.S. Holland became one of Sun Records’ go-to session drummers.
W.S. Holland was the drummer for the famous “Million Dollar Quartet” session that matched up Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis (he got paid $11.50 for the gig—union scale at the time). He played on many other famous Sun Records recordings, including Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “Ring of Fire”, not as a member of Johnny’s band, but as a session player. Holland also played on many other famous Sun recordings, including “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Later W.S. Holland would take the same drum set used in many of those famous Sun Studios sessions, and they would become the first full drum set ever used on The Grand Ole Opry. Though Bob Wills back in 1945 brought his Texas Playboys to the Ryman, including their full-time drummer, The Opry forbade Bob from playing the drum set on stage. An argument ensued, and eventually The Opry caved and allowed the drummer to play a partial set behind a curtain. It’s said that Bob at one point said, “Move those things out on stage!” and the drums made a quick and controversial appearance, barring Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from the Opry for life. But the set owned by W.S. “Fluke” Holland, and the set that is on display as part of the Johnny Cash Museum’s “Legends of Sun Records” is the first full drum set, and the first officially approved set to ever grace The Grand Ole Opry’s hallowed stage.
The biggest “fluke” occurred for W.S. “Fluke” Holland when he was hired by Johnny Cash to play a quick two week run of shows in New York and Atlantic City. That two weeks lasted 40 years in Johnny Cash’s band, and the rest is history. Later when Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, W.S. “Fluke” was the supergroup’s full-time drummer. “Fluke” also played on Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, played on the Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin albums, and was also the session player for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record.
The quaint, four-piece drum set on display at the Johnny Cash Museum could be considered the most important drum set in this history of country music—and rock and roll music for that matter, or American music in general. Along with all the other important artifacts that make up the “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit, it makes this new museum addition a worthy visit for music fans of all stripes.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland still plays drums and tours today in his W.S. Holland Band.
Photos by Jarrett Gaza
Guernsey’s Auctions out of New York City is getting ready to liquidate a massive 2,000-piece collection of items owned by Waylon Jennings from his Arizona estate, with the proceeds from the auction going to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.
What can collectors expect from this rare chance to own a piece of authentic Waylon Jennings memorabilia? Well for starters, there’s a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams that are adorned appropriately with a Phoenix on the front, and an ‘H’ in the middle for “Hank”. There’s also an authentic set of Willie Nelson’s famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylon’s newly-found sobriety. There’s also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. There’s also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Waylon Jennings played bass for Buddy Holly right before he died in the plane crash in 1959 that was later memorialized in the Don McLean song âAmerican Pie”. Waylon was supposed to be on that flight, but gave his seat up to The Big Bopper. 1 1/2 years before in May of 1958, Buddy Holly and his original Crickets flew in to Dallasâs Love Field airport on a connecting flight back to Lubbock after a big tour. But instead of flying, the three decided to purchase motorcycles and drive back.
âThen they went over to Millerâs Motorcycles, which specialized in English bikes,” Waylon recalled in his biography with Lenny Kaye. “There, Joe B, and J.I. (Allison) bought a Triumph each, a TR6 and Thunderbird, respectively, while Buddy picked out a maroon and black Ariel Cyclone, with a high compression 650cc Huntsmaster engine. They paid cash, bought matching Levi jackets and peaked caps with wings on them, and rode home through a thunderstorm.â
Then in 1979 for Waylonâs 42nd birthday, the two remaining Crickets Joe B. and J.I. tracked down the 1959 Ariel Cyclone, bought it back, and had it hand delivered to north Texas where Waylon found it sitting there in the middle of his hotel room after walking off stage that night.
âWhat else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldnât mind.â
The motorcycle was eventually put on display at Waylon’s home in Arizona.
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JD’s in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylon’s Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
An auction catalog with detailed descriptions and pictures of each item is expected to be made available to the public for $32 from Guernesy’s later in August, and the items in the auction will be available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Along with making the Phoenix Children’s Hospital lots of money, let’s hope some of the more important items end up where they can enjoyed not just by the high bidder, but by all of Waylon’s fans.
When it comes to mainstream country music males, Dierks Bentley is one of the few remaining good guys left. Dierks has made a career of straddling the line between commercial and critical acceptance, making friends and fans across the cultural divide that separates country music by what are many times deep-seated ideological differences. That is why it’s unfortunate that on a recent promotional video for the upcoming broadcast of CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock on ABC on Tuesday, Aug. 5th, Dierks Bentley said some things that somewhat alienate country music’s older, middle-aged, even 30-something fans, and exposes a deeper issue with CMA’s Fan Fest—both with their LP Field lineup at the early June festival itself, and their annual television broadcast of footage taken from the fest later in the summer.
“What I love about CMA Music Fest, it reflects where country music is, you know?” Dierks says in a short promotional video, put together by Taste of Country (see below). “It’s a young, current, hip thing that’s happening that deserves to be in a downtown city center that’s new and growing and feels vibrant and just feels … represents the music properly. You know, this is not like your grandfather’s country music anymore.”
Dierk’s statement is no “Old Farts & Jackasses” declaration by any stretch, but it does state what has been obvious about CMA Fan Fest for a few years now, and a trend that seems to be growing deeper with each new installment.
The CMA’s “Vision Statement” says,
CMA is dedicated to bringing the poetry and emotion of Country Music to the world. We will continue the tradition of leadership and professionalism, promoting the music, and recognizing excellence in all its forms.
But aside from a few token gestures, the CMA Music Festival presentation only features the current and biggest stars of country, not all of the great acts from the past that have made country music the commercial powerhouse it is today, or many of the up-and-comers that are offering a lot of promise to country’s future. By Dierks saying, “It’s a young, current, hip thing that’s happening that deserves to be in a downtown city center that’s new and growing and feels vibrant” before reminding us country music is no longer like our grandfather’s music, he’s saying by default that older country music and their fans are boring and irrelevant. That may be the case to the 15-year-olds the video shows partying down at LP Field, but that’s not the case for many of the other fans and artists of country music that the CMA is charged with supporting and promoting along with the young and hip.
On the CMA website, the organization defines country as:
Country MusicÂ - the sound of Jimmie Rodgers yodeling â Keith Urban blasting out a guitar solo â The poetry of Hank Williams Sr. on âIâm So Lonesome I Could Cryâ -Â A room full of convicts cheering on Johnny Cash as he sings âSan Quentin, I hate every inch of youâ -Â Alan Jackson speaking for the common man in the wake of September 11th -Â Feisty Loretta Lynn, and tearful Tammy Wynette -Â Roy Acuff showing off yo-yo tricks at the Grand Ole Opry -Â Miranda Lambert performing a heartfelt ballad -Â The King of Country George Strait â The showmanship of superstars Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, TimÂ McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift.
Country Music moves its fans, hits them where they live. Its artists have traveled millions of miles and recorded just as many songs in their quest to articulate the lives and hopes of everyday Americans. The songs make up a tapestry of the American life.
Unlike other music genres, Country Music artists have been supported for more than five decades by a trade organization dedicated to the advancement of the industry as a whole.
This definition paints a picture where there’s space for all. Sure, pop country and Keith Urban guitar solos have their place. But so does the poetry of Hank Williams and the sound of Jimmie Rodgers yodeling. The CMA is supposed to be about “the advancement of the industry as a whole.” But you won’t see that on Tuesday night’s broadcast. The few token artists that actually made it on the LP Field lineup at the CMA Fan Fest in 2014 are being left off the television presentation, but you will see non-country performers like Nikki Sixx and Vince Neal of MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe on the broadcast, and semi-former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora.
Unfortunately, the CMA Fan Fest seems to not be about promoting country music, but promoting the idea that country music is a lucrative place for advertisers and sponsors looking to appeal to young demographics. As a trade organization, The CMA should be concerned about the commercial solvency and success of country music, but it shouldn’t do it through the abandonment of it’s stated mission and charters, or the huge population of country fans older than age 30. You can’t tell me there aren’t tons of fans who will be sitting at home on Tuesday night who wouldn’t love to see George Strait, Willie Nelson, or Alan Jackson perform. And by promoting these artists’ appearances, the CMA would broaden the appeal of the presentation.
Instead of representing country music as a “young, current, hip thing” and “not like your grandfather’s country music anymore,” why not present the revolutionary idea that music, and country music specifically, is something that people of all ages can enjoy together? Wouldn’t that be the way to appeal to the most people? Wouldn’t that be more in line with the CMA’s stated mission?
Forget all the Johnny Come Lately’s ladies and gentlemen. If you want to witness the last remaining vestige of what once was the high flying revolutionary original Outlaw movement in country music, if you want to see the last remaining example of the piss and vinegar, the cowboy poetry, the tried and true rebellious nature that defined what an original country music Outlaw really was, Billy Joe Shaver is the last living true specimen of the genre. He’s the one who never came down off that mountain, who never gave up the ghost, who is still fighting tooth and nail every day and night for what he has, and hasn’t given up one speck of ground when it comes to energy and appetite for the music over his legendary career.
When you watch Billy Joe Shaver perform live, you don’t have to rely on the mythos surrounding the man to enjoy his show. Billy Joe Shaver is no museum piece. He doesn’t come out and ride off of his past accomplishments while sitting on a stool with his laurels stuffed in his back pockets. He puts on a show that kicks the ass of most performers a third of his age—punching and bobbing and singing and performing his guts out like it’s his last performance ever, and all of this from a man who’s arguably known first and foremost as a songwriter, not a performer. If you put a stool out on stage for him, he’d kick its ass during the first stanza of “Georgia On A Fast Train” and then dance a jig around its splintered corpse during the guitar solo. Billy Joe Shaver is what Outlaw country music is all about: never giving in.
We have waited seven damn years for the 74-year-old to finally put out another album of original music, and Long In The Tooth is well worth the wait. The album finds Billy Joe Shaver sitting tall in the saddle, shouting and spitting, brandishing his fists and taking potshots, and shining in moments of unexpected sentimentality.
In some respects this album can be taken as a companion piece to Shaver’s dear friend Willie Nelson’s recent album Band of Brothers. On that album, Willie featured two Billy Joe Shaver-penned songs, “The Git Go” and “Hard To Be An Outlaw”, and those are two of the first three tracks on Long In The Tooth. Honesty, and as you would expect, Shaver’s versions are slightly better, and are sung with such conviction it can give you shivers. Shaver might now be in his 70′s, but his current songwriting output holds up to the lofty standards he set for himself years ago. “The Git Go” and “Hard To Be An Outlaw” are the two biggest takeaways from Long In The Tooth, and for completely different reasons. “Hard To Be An Outlaw” is the bellicose, “climb-the-highest-building-in-Nashville-like-King-Kong-and-shoot-the-double-bird” type of song, while “The Git Go” is pious, poetic, yet still grounded and folksy in its wrinkled wisdom.
Long In The Tooth comes out of the shoot like a bronking bull. Billy Joe Shaver announces immediately that this is not going to be some gray-haired, geriatric affair. He may be 74, but he will still kick everyone’s ass in the room if he has to, and do it in the name of Jesus. As the album proceeds though, there are some astounding moments where Shaver, whose zeal can sometimes exceed his vocal prowess, shows off a set of pipes in love songs that stir the heart with the same ferocity as his boot stompers shake the bones. “I Love You As Much As I Can” and especially “I’m In Love” capture timeless performances from Shaver, whose voice sounds as strong and sincere as it ever did. It’s almost shocking, especially with the throat gravel Billy Joe unearths on some of the other tracks, how remarkably Shaver has held onto his singing voice and the control he displays.
The controversial song on the album (if you want to call it that) is the title track. It has some people (including Shaver himself in certain interviews) saying that he’s rapping, though I’m not sure that’s how I would characterize it. The song is drenched in Crybaby guitar pedals and spit on the microphone as Shaver does his best to scare off old age in a merciless exploration of whatever is left of his id and machismo. If a song like this came from someone like Hank Williams Jr. or another country star who is trying desperately (and embarrassingly) to hold on to their youthful career, we’d be laughing and labeling them a sellout. But Shaver is so far beyond that phase, this song is simply meant to be taken as fun, and it should be. It is good for a few passes, though it certainly is not representative of the best music the album has to offer.
Shaver’s songwriting continues to impress as the album progresses, including with the train number “Sunbeam Special”, and the witty song for the common man, “Checkers And Chess”.
Blame the seven year hiatus for helping to refine his material, blame his immortal spirit that refuses to let him sit down, or blame the talent within him that appears to be bottomless. But at 74-years-old, Billy Joe Shaver is still schooling an army of artists who would love to label themselves Outlaws, but don’t have the acumen to truly understand what the word even means, let alone the skills to pull it off, or the history to back it up.
In Outlaw country music in 2014, there’s Billy Joe Shaver, and everyone else.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up
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Kacey Musgraves may not be the typical country music commercial powerhouse or the perennial chart topper, but the hard work on her debut major label album Same Trailer, Different Park, and the resonance and appeal of her breakout single “Merry Go ‘Round” have finally paid off for the country star in RIAA certifications.
Announced today by the Recording Industry Association of America, Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park is officially a gold record, denoting 500,000 copies sold, and “Merry Go ‘Round” has been certified platinum with 1,000,000 singles sold. Her third single “Follow Your Arrow” was also certified gold in the certification class coveringÂ 7/1/2014 to 7/31/2014. The certifications come despite Kacey’s general lack of support by country radio, and the lagging sales environment in music in general.
Though Kacey Musgraves may not be the cash cow as some of country’s other current mainstream stars, she has not run short on industry accolades. Kacey will be able to display her new gold and platinum plaques beside the Grammy Awards she won for Best Country Song for “Merry Go ‘Round”, and Best Country Album for Same Trailer, Different Park in 2014. Same Trailer also won the Album of the Year at the ACM Awards in 2014, and Kacey was awarded New Artist of the Year by the CMA’s in late 2013. This is all from an artist who has only managed to get to #10 on any singles chart, but shines when it comes to critical praise and appeal towards more distinguishing listeners.
“Does this mean a gold tooth is now appropriate?” Kacey tweeted out after the certifications were announced on Friday.
The certifications are also the result of Kacey’s heavy touring schedule that saw her playing with Willie Nelson & Alison Krauss earlier this summer. And despite not being released officially as a single, her song “The Trailer Song” actually showed up on the charts at #46.
I first met Caitlyn Smith and saw her perform on the 4th of July, 2011. The occasion was the confluence of Willie Nelson’s annual 4th of July Picnic, and the now defunct (seemingly) Country Throwdown Tour put on by the same promoters of the long-running Warped concerts. It all collided at Billy Bob’s Texas in Ft. Worth, and I was there covering the event, and specifically had my eyes set on up-and-comer Austin Lucas, who like Caitlyn Smith, was playing on an acoustic stage where promising songwriters took turns playing their songs in a “Nashville Round” setting. The idea was a great way to feature up-and-coming talent right beside the bigger names on the tour like Lee Brice, Jamey Johnson, and Brantley Gilbert.
Caitlyn Smith was stunning. She had a song called “Hank Drank” that knocked me flat on my ass. At the time I wrote about the young songwriter, “The other highlight from the one Nashville Round session I caught was Caitlyn Smith. She would be my #2 surprise of the day. Caitlyn had the best voice of the whole event, and well-penned songs to compliment that voice, as well as dynamic and energetic guitar playing. Beautiful girl, and certainly one to watch.”
Later as I made my way onto one of the fleet of Country Throwdown buses to conduct an interview with Austin Lucas, it was then that during brief conversations with Caitlyn and other promising Nashville songwriters that I solidified my opinions about the burgeoning trend of country “checklist” songs, or “laundry list” songs as I had been dubbing them before. Checklist songwriting is very much the foundation of what is called “Bro-Country” today, but even in 2011, the ugly trend was prevailing in country music and was the talk of songwriting circles and Saving Country Music; it just took 3 years for the rest of country media to catch on.
But back to Caitlyn Smith. Or more specifically, on to Garth Brooks, who during his July 10th press conference making his comeback official, had glowing compliments for the Nashville songwriters he was discovering when selecting new songs for his upcoming project. When asked how much songwriting Garth was doing himself, his response was, “Iâm getting my ass kicked by the level of songwriting right now âŠ Most of the stuff weâve been cutting has been outside songs.”
The sentiments from Garth are similar to ones we’ve been hearing from other industry experts like T Bone Burnett, who while acting as the music director for the ABC TV show Nashville tried to do his best to alleviate some of the glut in amazing songs going unheard because of the current focus on Bro-Country that’s dominating mainstream country music right now. The competition for songwriters in Nashville has never been more fierce, but since so few artists want to cut songs of true substance, there is an amazing stock of high-caliber song material just sitting on the shelf.Â At his July 10th press conference, Garth also said, âThe first single thatâs gonna come out âŠ might be one of the greatest statements ever.”
Now enter Caitlyn Smith. In 2011 when I was first exposed to her, she had already landed a co-write on a Jason Aldean album cut for “It Ain’t Easy”. Speaking of ABC’s Nashville, a Caitlyn co-write “Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet” was featured prominently on the TV Show, and has become one of the most popular songs of the series. She also co-wrote the new Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” Caitlyn’s name had already been rumored in connection with the new Garth project, even before the press conference early in July. Now the word on the street from multiple sources is that Garth’s debut single—arguably one of the most-anticipated singles in country music in years—is the Caitlin Smith song “Tacoma”, co-written with Bob DiPiero.
Though many of Caitlyn’s songwriting credits are held by more pop-oriented performers (she has the title track on the upcoming Lady Antebellum album, and Cassadee Pope’s platinum-selling “Wasting All These Tears”), in October of 2013, Caitlyn released a single called Dream Away and apparently has a whole album of material steeped in country tradition with banjo, fiddle, and mandolin featured heavy on the tracks. She is a professional, salaried songwriter, but like Ashley Monroe or Brandy Clark, Caityln Smith has all the skills to be a striking performer as well.
Caitlyn Smith is a native of Minnesota, and grew up in a small town aspiring to be a songwriter from a young age. She first started songwriting in the Christian music world, taking trips to Nashville to work with other writers before converting to secular country music. As she grew older, her trips to Nashville became more frequent until she finally moved there to pursue her dream full time.
Below is a demo version of Caitlyn Smith’s “Tacoma”. Garth’s version is very likely to sound much different, so don’t jump to too many conclusions about how “country” Garth’s final product might be. That is why it is called a demo.
But this is where Garth Brooks could shake up the country music industry beyond simply packing sold-out stadiums. There are reams of amazing songs out there going unheard, and Garth is one of the very few people with the star power to take these songs and make them hits. And this rising tide could raise all boats, taking an artist like Caitlyn Smith to the greater notoriety her talents deserve.
Caitlyn Smith is a one-in-a-million star just waiting for her big shot. Ravenesque, articulate, poetic, insightful, and delightfully troubled, her music can strike a toll on the soul like few others.
(NOTE: Folks, it looks like the SoundCloud demo of “Tacoma” has been taken down. If another example of the song is made available, it will be posted here.)
In August of last year, plans were unveiled for a new Outlaw Music Hall of Fame to be located in Lynchburg, TN. A letter of intent had been signed on a 5,000 sq. ft. property in downtown Lynchburg, and numerous personalities from the independent and Outlaw music community were named as board members, with the intention of opening the Hall in the spring of 2014. Later in October at an event in Altamont, TN, the inagural inductees to the Hall were announced, including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, and a slew of other country music greats.
However as time has gone on, questions have arose about what is happening with the Hall of Fame. The spring of 2014 came and passed, and no progress or dates for an opening or inaugural induction ceremony were announced. Then an examiner.com article was published questioning the intent and legitimacy of the Hall, but as Saving Country Music pointed out, the article included gross inaccuracies and incorrect information, including the assertion that the Hall did not have a not-for-profit status.
As Saving Country Music explained at the time, the Outlaw Hall of Fame has been delayed because the location it planned to occupy was caught in a legal battle with the original owners and the bank that carried the deed on the property. This has caused caused a significant delay in the opening of the Hall, but according to the Hall of Fame’s point man Gary Sargeant, the Outlaw Hall of Fame is not dead.
“Last summer we signed a letter of intent to occupy the Lynchburg location, and gave them a deposit on their offer,” Gary explains. “I accepted their offer. Well the bank turned around because so much money was owed on it and two other pieces of property by the previous owners that the bank put a quash on the deal. We were supposed to take possession November 1st of 2013. Well in January 2014 the bank foreclosed on the property. The property is available for sale, but I am not able to personally buy the property. We had it on a lease option, which would have allowed us to move into the property. After a year we could have purchased it, and we had the first three months free. The bank is willing to let it go at 50% of the assessed value, let alone the appraised value. They want it off the books. But we do not have the money to purchase it outright. So that’s kind of where the Hall of Fame is sitting.”
One of the more controversial portions of the Hall of Fame was an Outlaw Music Association that was intended to help artists network with each other for touring, etc. Sargeant, who was injured in a motorcycle accident in October of 2013 right before a Hall of Fame-sponsored festival, say he has turned the reigns over to someone else in that portion of the venture.
“I have handed day-to-day operational control for the Outlaw Music Association over to Robin Randall because the last benefit I did for tornado victims in March, I lost another $3,000. Instead of paying bills, I took care of my commitments for that benefit. And I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m broke. This has bankrupted me. I’m losing everything I own. I’ve got to go back to work.’ The doctors had finally cleared me to go back to work (from the motorcycle accident). So I’m back to work now in construction, and we’re in the regrouping stage.”
According to Sargeant, the bank foreclosure on the proposed Outlaw Hall of Fame building has been the biggest hitch in the plan.
“The brick and mortar physical location for the Hall of Fame is the key to everything. The focus got lost when we were waiting to see what the bank was going to do, and they foreclosed and we started focusing on the Outlaw Music Association. The attention needs to go back on the Hall of Fame. I’m trying to get back up on my feet financially. It’s not like we’ve given up, it’s just very very hard for one individual to try to do something, and I think people’s expectations were a little bit higher than our abilities. It’s not like it’s gone south or died. It’s just regrouping and trying to put a package together that is going to make it be successful. This is a major undertaking and it’s not going to get done with one fan. It’s about pulling everyone together and letting them know what the real expectations are. The bank foreclosing on the building and the inability to purchase it outright really hurt the Hall of Fame opening this year. We’re looking at other venues right now, alternate sites. We still have a lot of support.”
In March the Hall of Fame published a video (see below) in hopes to attract investors, sponsors, or a buyer for the building that the Outlaw Hall of Fame could then lease the building from.
“We tried to attract some investors. We are willing to have somebody else buy it and turn around and lease it to us. They’re going to buy a commercial property and already has a tenant, and they’re going to buy it for less of what half the assessed value is. It’s a beautiful investment for someone, but that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Another issue according to Sargeant has been the passing of country artist Wayne Mills, who was on the Board of Directors for the Hall of Fame’s Outlaw Music Association.
“Wayne was a very big part of the Outlaw Music Association. People don’t realize that. He founded Alabama Line. Alabama Line is a group that promotes Alabama artists. All the Association is, is Alabama Line on a national basis, on a national scale. He was very integral. Wayne was so smart, and I miss that. Not just as a friend, I miss his council and everything he provided. We lost a lot when we lost him. And every time I wanted to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore. This is too much,’ then I would think, ‘It’s not about me, this is Wayne’s dream too, and it’s about the artists.’”
Because of the delays, people have had questions about if the Hall of Fame inaugural induction ceremony or a new round of inductees will happen this year.
“I have people tell me that we should do the induction ceremony anyway and use it as part of a fundraiser for the Hall itself, which might make sense. It’s an idea that’s being kicked around. We’re talking to sponsors. It would have to be that we do new inductees after this year’s induction. Everything is still pretty much as it’s supposed to be as far as a plan. Just without a physical building, it changes the execution.”
Gary Sargeant is willing to admit that mistakes have been made in the rollout of the Hall of Fame, and that in certain sectors of the Outlaw country and independent music world, he’s not highly regarded, and others are suspicious of the intentions of the Hall and the Outlaw Music Association.
“When you’re working on a volunteer effort, everyone’s time is limited. For something that should take two or three days, it sometimes takes two to three weeks. And it doesn’t take long for something to drag out three or four months. Then after three or four months, you have 10,000 people across the country that don’t know what is going on questioning what you’re doing. I’ve always been very quiet on Facebook and everything else. I hate Facebook. I don’t do that. I monitor it to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on. If people want to hate me or hate us, that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. But at least be educated, and know why we’re where we’re at.”
Setbacks aside, Gary insists the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame is not dead, just delayed.
“Quitting is something we’re not going to do. We might change some of our goals, but everyone can see that we’re still moving forward. I’m working hard. I’m trying to get the right people together. I will be the first to say that I’m inexperienced and I failed at certain things. There’s reasons I failed, from lack of experience to banks not honoring the letter of intent we signed. There’s different things that have happened, but if nothing else, we’ve raised the profile over the last year. The biggest thing is that we’re regrouping, and the focus is now on the Hall of Fame.”
An Outlaw Music Festival at the Wishbone Ranch in Bowling Green, KY October 9th thru 12th has been planned, and though Gary Sargeant says they are not associated with the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame, he still supports the event.
“I think it’s a great thing. I love it. I think it’s fantastic. This is not about the OMA or Gary Sargeant, this is about artists getting promoted, helping each other. It is being run by Moonshine Barbecue Sauce, which is one of the original vendors at our Altamont festival last year who enjoyed it, saw that it was a great thing. But he also saw—and rightly so—that he could do a better job than me. So I hope it’s wildly successful because it’s only benefiting the artists. And the Last Honky Tonk Music Series, same thing. It’s all about promoting and getting the music out there.”
Also a raffle for a motorcycle with the proceeds scheduled to go to the family of Wayne Mills that was being administrated through the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame is still happening, and all raffle tickets sold will still be honored. It has just changed hands to a different administrator. All the current raffle tickets are still accounted for, and a winner will be chosen once they hit the ticket threshold for the raffle.
The promotional video put together in March for the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame property:
When the compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws was released in 1976, it became country music’s first million-selling record and made huge stars of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Jessi Colter was already a big star because of her big #1 hit “I’m Not Lisa”. But why did Tompall Glaser never find the big success his fellow Outlaws did? Why wasn’t Tompall able to ride the Outlaw momentum to become one of the biggest names in country music?
A recently-released biography on Tompall Glaser called The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw finally looks to tell the life story of one of the most important figures in the history of country music, but one of the most forgotten. Because Tompall’s impact was mostly felt behind-the-scenes, he arguably has never received proper credit for how he revolutionized country music in the mid 70′s with his renegade studio that broke the major label monopoly on country, and allowed creative freedom to finally reign in Nashville.
The new book, written by blood relative Kevin Glaser who is the nephew of Tompall, includes many interviews with important country music figures from today and from the time of Tompall’s greatest influence; people like Kinky Friedman, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and Marty Stuart. Kevin Glaser also speaks to influential critic and professor Dave Hickey who spent significant time at Glaser Studios in Nashville during the height of the Outlaw movement. In the new biography, Hickey helps explain why Tompall never became as famous as his Outlaw brothers while painting a picture of what the Glaser Sound Studios were like.
From “The Great Tompall”:
Hickey first came to Nashville with an assignment to write a book about Waylon and Willie. He never got around to it since he existed in a “fog of cocaine and dope” during his time at Glaser Sound Studios. He considers the time he spent there as a “studio internship,” and mentioned that because he lived two blocks away, he would sometimes sleep in the studio.
According to Hickey, “Glaser Sound Studio became ‘ground zero’ for the Outlaw Movement (a phrase that Dave claims to have coined), due to the fact that people like Tompall, Waylon, Willie and Neil Reshen were there during this time. This was the moment that country music artists discovered that they didn’t need to ask Chet Atkins’ permission before they could go to the bathroom. The old-time studio system (Acuff-Rose, etc.) could be bypassed. Everyone took control of their own destiny. They had their own publishing companies, studios, managers, etc. They weren’t beholden to record companies or to Billy Sherrill’s idea of what a good song was.”
In Hickey’s mind, the “Rebellious Center of Nashville” during this time included Roger Miller, John Lomax, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Tompall, Billy Swan, and Kinky Friedman, among others. However, Tompall was the “improviasrio of the scene” and the scene was very valuable to a great many people. Tompall was a force to be reckoned with, and he was willing to take chances. A lot of studio time was provided pro bono and involved experimental types of activities…
Hickey said that drugs were the culture of this time period (pre-1985). Glaser Studios certainly wasn’t a “drug alley,” but drugs were certainly there. Tompall got into cocaine later in his career, but he (Hickey) doesn’t think that Tompall was into speed the way Willie and Waylon were. Waylon once said that “speed is pot for people who have to work two shifts per day.” Hickey also remembers that a professional cleaning company once came in to clean up all the smoke from pot and cigarettes that had become attached to the underside of the studio soundboard….
In Hickey’s opinion, Tompall didn’t become as well known as Waylon and Willie because “the obligation of having the recording studio created somewhat of a burden for Tompall, and he was not willing to leave and go on the road for eight weeks and live in a bus, etc. It just wasn’t his thing … and that is the thing that makes performers successful. However, Tompall seemed to be comfortable with the way things were.” Also, Hickey felt that Tompall wasn’t really comfortable with the place he found in the group that included Waylon, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson. There there is a tragedy to the story of Tompall, maybe this is it. Hickey compared Tompall’s place in this group to Bill Wyman’s place in the Rolling Stones, opposite of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
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That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the Nelson clan can now field three generations of performers on the stage, and the new generation is about as defiant and ass kicking as you might expect. Rearing out of the gates comes the rambunctious and ribald Raelyn Nelson and the Raelyn Nelson Band: a full throttle country rock experience, just as much Loretta Lynn as it is The Ramones, with Willie’s little granddaughter out there in skimpy miniskirts and a flirty midriff while making one hell of a racket and breaking hearts.
As you can imagine, Raelyn was raised with country music poured right into her bottle, and along with her obvious influences, (including one that goes by the name of “Willie”), she’s a huge Loretta Lynn fan, and will put her dukes up to anyone who has anything cross to say about the country queen. But when it came to putting out her debut EP, the music took a different direction, with more of a rock and punk attitude as can be inferred heavily by the block letters, and even Raelyn’sÂ exposed midriff that mimics almost exactly the cover of The Ramones’ 1976 debut cover.
Raelyn has been playing in Nashville and performing for a while now mostly in the vein of her family tradition. But when she partnered up with underground rock producer Jonathan Bright to try something a little different, what they came up with is self-referred to as “Country/Garage Rock”. Wild-eyed with a lot of girl power and melodic sensibility, The Raelyn Nelson Band EP may not exactly wow the traditional country crowd, but it certainly gets your attention and has you singing along, even if it’s filed as a guilty pleasure.
The lead off track to the EP “Do You” and the later track “Careless” finds Raelyn waxing unapologetically self-destructive yet ultimately resilient in a similar vein to Lydia Loveless. “Moon Song” takes a lighter approach, with Raelyn appropriating the ukelele like her aunt Amy Nelson of Folk Uke, and dueting with her famous grandfather himself in a song that is simple and sappy, but still refers to the family’s natural inclination to songcraft. “He’s All Mine” is where Raelyn exposes her country roots and love for Loretta in a track that is twangy without interrupting the winning streak of infectious groove and melody this EP sports. The final song “Getta Room” about inappropriately mugging down in a booth may be a little bit too long, but exhumes the early 80′s punk rock approach of girls with the guts to tell it all.
With this EP, Raelyn isn’t looking to make your eyes water, but for what it is, it shows a lot of promise from the young Nelson as a singer, front person, and songwriter. And as she likes to point out, “I don’t really have any desire to be a ‘solo-artist’. Everyone in my family who plays music has always placed a lot of importance on band chemistry, on stage, off stage and in the studio. Our band can almost read each other’s minds. Why would I mess with that?”
Reading Raelyn’s mind along with Jonathan Bright are Paulie Simmons and Preach Rutherford from the band Defense Wins Championships.
Raelyn is the daughter of Willie’s son Billy Nelson from Willie’s very first marriage. In a somewhat strange circumstance, Raelyn is actually slightly older than her uncle, fellow country rock performer Lukas Nelson. But no matter, Lukas Nelson, Raelyn’s aunt Amy Nelson from Folk Uke, and everyone else from the Nelson clan has welcomed Raelyn into the performing family. “I’ve been told by more than one person in the ‘biz’ that I’m stubborn like my grandpa. I kind of like that.”
There’s a lot still to be determined about where Raelyn’s musical nose will point, and if she can make music a full-time, non-stop endeavor. This certainly should be approached as a rock album first with a little bit of country mixed in, but classifications aside, Raelyn Nelson shows a lot of spunk on this very enjoyable EP.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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Close your eyes for a second, and envision a world where a young beautiful bubbly female star—like Taylor Swift maybe—releases a completely traditional country album, not of her own music, but of some of the standards from country music’s sainted past, and not just by herself, but as duets with the very stars that made the songs popular in the first place; the same stars who are very much being forgotten in modern country’s obsession with youth. Think of the possibility of how this could open up an entire new world of music to listeners who are too young to remember where country music came from, ostensibly bridging the future and the past.
Now, open your eyes back up, and you’re ready to enter the world of Mary Sarah.
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Musicians, just like the rest of us, tend to fall within a dozen or so archetypes, with minor variations on those themes when considering the specific artist. You have the scrappy up-and-comer looking to make their name, the established journeyman, the superstar, the underground anti-hero, and so forth and so on from there. Even the most unusual musicians tend to still follow the same weird path of their unusual predecessors. But I have never happened upon a performer that is so hard to pin down, so hard to wrap your head around and really deduce exactly what’s going on as Mary Sarah, and specifically her duets album called Bridges performed with an incredible list of country legends including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Vice Gill, Freddy Powers, and Lynn Anderson.
It’s not that Mary Sarah is “weird”. She’s far from it. In fact if anything, just how un-wierd Mary Sarah is makes this entire case study that much more confounding, and speaks to just how much of a unique individual she is. The 19-year-old singer, born in Oklahoma, raised around Houston, currently living in Nashville, has the looks and disposition of a bona fide American superstar. Nearly every picture you see of her, she’s smiling. And when she’s frowning, it’s to be cute. She’s happy, well-adjusted, confident, illuminated. She’s almost too perfect in some respects, like you want to take some dirt and rub it on her just to make her more real. It’s hard to tell if there’s anything dark lurking behind that perfect hair and haloed smile.
If you want to be a step ahead of the game in the music business, it’s best to keep one eye on artists coming out of adolescent development, and that’s where we first spied the young Mary Sarah. Like so many young country stars these days, Mary Sarah came out of the vocal coach ranks, and the stage show environments like Kidz Bop that look to begin developing stars at a very young age. This isn’t the “picked up guitar in college to play at coffee shops for tips” model, this is the fast-track, preordained conveyor belt to stardom.
It’s about this time in the story that many independent and traditional country fans start to get turned off by how the biography of this young artist is playing out, and where it probably will lead. Yes, the cute little girl groomed for stardom since childhood becomes country music’s next manufactured star; we’ve seen this act before and it doesn’t result in anything we’d be interested in listening to or seeing. And it’s at that moment when Mary Sarah completely surprises you.
Along with participating in things like Kidz Bop, Mary Sarah was also touring around Texas as a young teen, playing churches and the little Opry houses around Texas that are nestled in the forgotten spaces of rural America where the sound of traditional country still thrives. It was a tale of two worlds for the young singer, and in 2010 she released an album called Crazy Good. It was like early Taylor Swift, with songs about boys and young adolescent struggles, but with steel guitar and banjo, illustrating the double world that lent to Mary Sarah’s influences.
The first song off of Mary Sarah’s new album Bridges that hit our ears was a duet with the late great Ray Price on his old standard “Heartaches By The Number”. It was released very shortly after Ray Price had passed away, and it was one of the very last recordings Ray Price ever made. Here is Mary Sarah with her perfect skin and a glittering personality, rubbing elbows with a legend like Ray Price. What was going on here? And then you gave it a listen, and were blown away. First off, Ray sounded incredible, so strong and lucid and inspired in his performance. And Mary Sarah, her voice was not only big, powerful, and confident, it had that distinctness to it, just a little pinch of something that you’ve never heard before that is the mark of all singers that are not just technically good, but have a talent that is lasting.
Then looking deeper into this Bridges album and seeing that the young singer had worked with Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Tanya Tucker, and the Oak Ridge Boys, even Freddy Powers, clearly something much deeper, much more complex was going on here than a fast track to pop stardom.
Whatever was going on, it still had tremendous money and management pull behind it. It still had that “fast track to stardom” feel. Billboards have been erected in Nashville promoting this album. The recordings are of the highest quality, and include some of the best and legendary country music talent still living. And as for the concept, it’s hard to argue that it is anything but brilliant. But the cynic in me begins to wonder about the motivations. Why would a young girl like this with such a powerful, undeniable voice and right on the verge of stardom take this certainly cool, but highly unusual route? Maybe back in the history of country music, I’m talking the 70′s or even before, artists wanting to make a name for themselves and get started in the business would make an album like this. But in 2014? It seems like such a strange approach, though still sort of genius.
And the results, especially when you narrow your focus down to some of the specific duets, can’t be argued with. The Ray Price duet already received SCM’s top grade. The duet with Dolly Parton on “Jolene” is something other-worldly, and may be one of the very top performances of this iconic song ever cut. Nobody is a harder duet partner than Willie Nelson because he insists on singing in unintuitive pentameters, but the production of Mary Sarah’s “Crazy” duet allowed both singers the space to breathe and do their thing, yet still conveyed the intimacy of a classic duet.
And meanwhile, musicianship seems to be no obstacle on this album, as an army of A-listers make their way into the studio to lay down some of the slickest recordings of classic country music you can find. “Go Rest High On A Mountain” with Vice Gill starts off sparse, and then positively soars. Some of the song choices and duet partners coming from such a young girl are most curious, but also cool. Who would have thought for the Merle Haggard duet “The Fightin’ Side of Me” would be chosen over something like “Silver Wings”? But the decision shows guts and spirit. Freddy Powers may be the least-recognizable name on the track list, but his inclusion here and his role as a mentor to Mary Sarah gives her and this project a country music street cred it otherwise wouldn’t carry, while the Tanya Tucker and Lynn Anderson duets on “Texas (When I Die)” and “Rose Garden” respectively give this album it’s fun moments.
As great as the great songs are on this album, the misses miss pretty bad. It’s not that the performances aren’t spot on, but the curse was cast in the song selection. “What A Difference You’ve Made in My Life” with Ronnie Milsap is incredibly shag carpet and saccharine, almost like a song that would play when the credits of an 80′s after school special are rolling. The “Dream On” effort with the Oak Ridge Boys comes across as dated, despite the flawless presentation. And “Where The Boys Are”? The composition actually fits Mary Sarah’s voice perfectly, but once again stuck out as a strange song choice. To 60-year-old ears though, these songs may sound quite fitting and nostalgic.
Overall, this is an album of individual songs and performances, whose selections should be looked at individually because of the disparity of the material, and the different duet partners. Traditional and classic country fans will love most songs, some will hate others, but the count of good to not good definitely ends up in Mary Sarah’s favor.
I still have absolutely no idea what’s going on here, and in some respects, I don’t want to know. And one thing this album doesn’t highlight is that Mary Sarah also has songwriting as one of her strong suits. Mary Sarah could develop into the Taylor Swift of traditional country, bringing huge crowds back towards country’s classic sound. Or she could develop into the next Taylor Swift, period, and maturate into a pure pop performer. Or it could be something in between, or completely unique that country music has never seen before and can’t compare to anything else. Is this album simply a way for Mary Sarah to pay her penance to the traditional country music powers that be so that she can run off and play pop? Or does it speak to a sincere desire to create a career behind “bridging” the old and the young, the classic and the contemporary? Time will tell, but I ‘m telling you, with a voice like this, and a spirit behind it that is so unique, it’s probably imperative on all of us to be paying close attention.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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