50 years ago today, New Year’s Eve 1968, Johnny Cash took time from whatever revelry the night might’ve had in store for him to write a letter to himself. It was Cash’s capstone to what he considered the most important year of his career and personal life, and many Cash fans and historians would probably concur.
When you’re looking for the names of people who were imperative to the rise and eventual success of independent country music that we enjoy today, the drummer for the metal band Pantera may not be your first choice to finger. But Vinnie Paul, who passed away on Friday, played a seminal role in the formation of the country music underground.
Mel Tillis was known for many accomplishments in music, but he’s also known to a generation as being one of the most famous people with the speech impediment known as stuttering. In the 80’s, Whataburger decided to take the initiative with their famous stammering spokesperson to make a point and inspire people.
Over the last year or so, Sturgill Simpson has certainly earned that distinction of a “badass” as he’s gone from an independent underdog to receiving some of the top recognition in the entire music industry, and stood up to the Music Row establishment in both words and deeds.
Twitty Burger was first launched in 1968, and included some pretty high-profile investors from country music, including Merle Haggard, Harlan Howard, and Sonny James. What separated the Twitty Burger from other burgers was Conway’s signature burger ingredient: the gram cracker-encrusted pineapple ring that was included on each sandwich.
“Yeah, that was me on ‘Smokin’ in The Boys Room,’” Willie Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael confirms. “Vince played a harmonica on the last note of the song, so he was credited for harmonica. he funny thing is that Vince even won an award that year for ‘Best Heavy Metal Instrumentalist.’”
The story has been told for many years that The Allman Brothers initially didn’t want to record “Ramblin’ Man” or release it as a single because they were afraid it was too country. Today people take for granted that The Allman Brothers fit squarely in the Southern rock genre, but to start, they were very much a blues and jazz-based jam band.
Eddie Pleasant is known as possibly the very first individual to ever sell a concert T-shirt. Eddie Pleasant took white T-shirts with an 8X10 picture of Hank Jr. on the front, and turned it into one of the most lucrative industries in music at the time.
Big Al Halterman, Buddy Lee, CJ Udeen, Conway Twitty, Eddie Pleasant, Gary Allan, Hank Williams Jr., Hank3, Jim Reeves, Kitty Wells, L.E. White, Lefty Frizzell, Marry Jane, Stoney Cooper, Vernon Derrick, Willie Nelson, Wilma Lee
So many of country music’s legendary artists also spent time earlier in their lives serving the country in one capacity or another. And on Veteran’s Day as we pay tribute to ALL the men and women who served in the military and put themselves in harm’s way, let’s have some fun by looking back to see how many of these country legends we can pick out by their pictures.
Steve Goodman. Even if you haven’t heard the name, you’ve most certainly heard the music. And if you’ve ever heard David Allan Coe’s country music classic “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” you know that Steve Goodman (with an assist from John Prine) is the writer of this “perfect country and Western song.”
Though Carolyn’s impact on country music was brief, her story exemplifies how every soul lost on 9/11 was an important one, and how the tragedy left not one segment of American life untouched. It’s the type of loss that leaves you alone and longing, like the lonesome melody of a country song.
Preserving the roots of country is not always just about paying homage. Sometimes it is about sowing disharmony or speaking out in protest to help force country music back on the right path. Music Row and the country music industry will always be about money first. The artists are the ones who must take the lead and reign the business in.
If you’re into country music and the history of it, you’re probably used to hearing about the “King” of this, or the “Father” of that. Since the history of country music is so important to keeping the lineage of the music alive, country pays special homage to the people who helped form or popularize the genre.
Bill Monroe, Bob Wills, Carl Perkins, George Strait, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmy Martin, Kitty Wells, Lena Hughes, Loretta Lynn, Mary Padgett, Maybelle Carter, Reverend Horton Heat, Rhonda Vincent, Rose Maddox, Roy Acuff, Slim Dusty, Spade Cooley, The Carter Family, unknown hinson, Wanda Jackson, Wayne Hancock
With the recent loss of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, country superstar Merle Haggard, songwriting great Freddy Powers, and Bakersfield’s Red Simpson, the amount of artists who are still around that can truly say they were there at the very start of the formation of country and bluegrass is getting anemically slim.
Muhammad Ali, who passed away on June 3rd, is known for many things, though music is not the first worldly pursuit you would associate with the World Champion boxer and humanitarian. But he was close friends with people all over the music world, including in country music, and especially with the four men that some consider the Mount Rushmore of country music.
Today most well-informed country fans know what a death sentence a Curb Records contract can be for an artist, at least for most of them. But in 1990 when Merle Haggard signed with the label, Curb was seen as one of the most trustworthy labels in town. They didn’t have to answer to higher ups in New York and Los Angeles, and could pass that freedom on to their artists.
“He’s mad as hell. And there’s a bunch of hangers on and groupies and people like that all up and down the hall. It was a long hall and it was almost like a gunfight deal. He comes out of there and he’s got two bikers on each side, and he says, ‘Hoss, what do you want?’ And I says, ‘I’ll tell you what I want … If you don’t listen to these songs, at least listen to them, I’m going to whip your ass right here in front of God and everybody.”
Roy Acuff may have been the model of good clean family fun and old-fashioned entertainment for the majority of his country music career, but at the beginning of his legendary, Hall of Fame-caliber run was an era of music that was quite the opposite of the accepted Acuff character, or the wholesome nature of his performance home of the family-friendly Grand Ole Opry.
Time is the ultimate judge and critic of music. 10 year anniversaries don’t always fall favorably for legendary records. They’re still too young to be considered vintage or retro, but are just old enough to be out of style. But unfolding the flaps of “Straight to Hell” today, re-living the music, it’s hard to not feel the same magic you heard when you listened to the record for the first time.
Tommy Overstreet, best known for his hit “Ann (Don’t Go Runnin’),” has died at his home in Hillsboro, Oregon. The countrypolitan singer, who amassed a total of five Top 5 singles and eleven Top 10 singles over his career, passed away on Monday morning (11-2). He was 78-years-old. Known as “T.O.” by many fans, he was born on September 10th, 1937 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Bill Keith many be known by just as many people by the name “Brad” Keith because of the nine months he spent as a member of Bill Monroe’s illustrious Bluegrass Boys in 1963. Though it was a very short stint in Bill Monroe history, the result was some of the most iconic, groundbreaking, and beloved bluegrass banjo recordings ever captured, regularly prefaced by Bill Monroe introducing “Mr. Brad Keith” on the banjo.
So what’s to learn from hitching a ride in Marty McFly’s time machine and traveling back to 1985? That the problems country music is facing today are virtually the same ones that were being faced 30 years ago. It’s all cyclical, as canonized in the old Gospel tune enshrined in the architecture of the Country Music Hall of Fame asking the question, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?”
Alan Jackson, Bill Carter, Bobby Bare, Chris Stapleton, Clint Black, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Jason Isbell, Keith Whitley, Kris Kristofferson, Mo Pitney, Randy Travis, Ray Charles, Ricky Skaggs, Sturgill Simpson, The Highwaymen, Travis Tritt, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson
Prison and country music go together like peanut butter and jelly. No wonder a slew of country music albums have been actually recorded within prison walls—some for convicts, some by convicts, and some using convicts. And we’re not just talking about novelty releases either, but some iconic albums that have helped define country music over the years. Here are some of them.
A Concert Behind Prison Walls, Billy Don BUrns, Charles Lee Guy III, David Allan Coe, Eddy Arnold, Flower Out of Place, Freddy Fender, Glen Sherley, In Prison In Person, Jimmie Davis, Joe Maphis, Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Kris Kristofferson, Linda Ronstadt, Mack Vickery, Merle Haggard, PÃ¥ Ã–sterÃ¥ker, Recorded Inside Louisiana State Prison, Roy Clark, Shel Silverstein, Sonny James, Spade Cooley, The Prisoner's Dream