This New Shooter Jennings’ “XXX” Genre

A while back it was brought to my attention that industrial rocker Shooter Jennings, along with No Depression blogger Adam Sheets had crafted the idea of starting a new genre of music, or more specifically, a radio format, called “XXX” after the nomenclature found on the front of moonshine bottles. The idea is to give a home to music that “is too rock for country, and too country for rock.”

I’ll start off by saying that I respect Adam Sheets as a writer, though I don’t always agree with him, and that I like what is at the heart of this idea. Finally, FINALLY, an artist is trying to show some kind of goddamn leadership, in some capacity, whatsoever. Back in the mid-2000’s artists like Shooter and Hank III and Dale Watson created this huge army of loyal fans of which this website grew out of, but then sometime in ’07-’08, the leadership when completely silent, and this massive army of supporters has been bivouacked, willing and ready to march but with absolutely no guidance whatsoever. I also appreciate that this idea is meant to bring disparate elements together under a big tent, to organize, which is another needful element I’ve been preaching about for years.

The problem is, is that there are many problems with XXX. The main one, and the one that is the deal killer for me, is that this focuses on radio. Why do we give a shit if radio is playing this music or not? I mean yes, it would be great if the “too country” and “too rock” crowd got more radio play, but radio is a dying industry that is fighting massive contraction while hemorrhaging money. Why are we coveting what they have? Why would we moor ourselves to that sinking ship?

Radio is the past, and they are fighting shrinking revenues by making the same mistakes that got them in this pickle–homogenizing formats and bleeding regionalism out of music. Shooter should know this, he’s a satellite guy, though satellite is having their own problems. And it also plays right into the hands of Shooter’s critics who say that he’s a whiny, spoiled rich kid who when he doesn’t get his way, throws a temper tantrum; that’s why he left his country label and put out an album which at times was filled with pretentious envy bordering on self-righteous rage. This idea seems to be born out of anger and envy instead of innovation.

Podcasts, virtual concerts, things like SCM LIVE, and the few independently-run radio stations like KOOK with robust online listenerships are the wave of the radio future. People will be listening on their computers and smart phones. Screw radio, we’re too good for them. And why set the ceiling so low as to say all we want is a place at the radio table? The problems with the infrastructure for good music of any genre is much more widespread. Swing for the fences.

And then there’s these lists of bands that have been populated for XXX. So you’re telling me Arson Anthem and the Avett Brothers are in the same genre? I love Black Joe Lewis, but he’s retro soul/funk. Hell, I can’t even get past the ‘B’s’ and I can tell this won’t work. And I also don’t like all this language about “southern bands.” The south is so choked by pop country these days, a lot of the great bands are coming from California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Upper Midwest. Whitey Morgan & The 78’s from Michigan are on the list, and so are The Devil Makes Three from California. I’m not really understanding this.

The band list looks like it was populated by a few select people asserting their own music tastes, instead of taking a step back and a broad look at the full musical spectrum that would create this genre or “format” by its own designated parameters. Where is the .357 String Band? They are the definition of “too rock for country.” Where is The Reverend Horton Heat? One could make the argument that he was vital to the formation of music that is too rock and too country. To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been, and I see little homage paid to the mid-90’s scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where the vast majority of these band’s sound sprouted from. BR549 isn’t on here, but James McMurtry is, but Ray Wylie Hubbard isn’t? I’m totally confused.

And then on the list of bands that “Came Before Us” you have Pantera, but their side project with David Allan Coe “Rebel Meets Rebel” is on the current bands list. And Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard are artists that bridged rock and country? These lists are all over the road like a drunk bloke who could blow a 2.0. And let’s not give up the fight for the term “country” so easily. What’s wrong with saying Whitey Morgan is country, and the crap they play on the radio is not?

With all respect to Shooter and Adam Sheets, this thing looks like it went off SO half cocked. Why not solicit for ideas from a spectrum of core thinkers before submitting it for public consumption? Not to sound like an arrogant bastard, but why not consult me? I talk about most of the bands on their lists all the time. When Shooter made the switch from country/southern rock to more industrial-style rock, what was the one outlet who covered that story, even in the face of whining fans who swore I was a liar? It wasn’t No Depression. Who was the first to review his new album Black Ribbons? I was the media outlet for Shooter, because I saw the importance in covering his transition, and because nobody else was. And what happened to Shooter now calling himself Black Country Rock?

And this isn’t my first time at the rodeo talking about creating new music formats. 10 months ago I proposed a very similar thing called Anti-country, but I did so not by asserting my reality-tunneled ideas without any outside help, I submitted it to my readership as a question, asking for their feedback. I have not written off the Anti-Country idea, I’m just waiting for the right time or the right angle. The principle difference between the two ideas is that XXX is mostly concerned about radio, while Anti-Country would focus on all aspects of supporting music.

But they both have a problem with the names themselves meaning different things to people. Yes, XXX is also the notation for pornography, just like Anti-Country could be misconstrued as being against country music, or even against the United States.

I don’t want to completely dismiss this idea. If you go to givememyxxx.com, and what you read speaks to you, then by all means sign the petition. (And that’s another thing, who are we petitioning exactly?) Give this idea at least a chance, because at its heart I do believe there is some good stuff. But I will not be signing it, at least for the moment. I see a LOT of work to be done here, tweaking the message, fixing confusing lists of artists, which at this point I don’t even know if such lists are important. So much more should have been done before putting this out for the public.

But people who are anti-Shooter (and there are a lot of them) should not just wholesale write off this idea just because Shooter is at the helm. I do think long-term Shooter’s involvement could hold the idea back, but XXX should be judged on its own merit. If it’s a good idea, it should be allowed to fly, and at least Shooter is trying to do something and show some bit of leadership.

My thoughts. What are yours?