On Tuesday as I was scrolling through Twitter amidst my Saving Country Music duties, I stumbled upon a tweet from the Houston Rodeo proclaiming how “Country Outlaw Eric Church” would be playing the rodeo on March 3rd. For those of you once removed from the doings down in Texas, the Houston Rodeo is one of the biggest musical events all year during its three-week run, drawing the biggest names in the country music to the Bayou City. But calling Eric Church an “Outlaw” seemed quite presumptive, and drew an upturned eyebrow from this country fan and others.
RODEOHOUSTON (@RODEOHOUSTON) January 28, 2015
The delineating terms that help describe country music and its subsidiaries, including the term “country” itself, are all getting lost to lackadaisical filings by marketeers looking for flashy selling points, and apparently when it comes to the term “Outlaw,” Eric Church agrees. In an interview posted with AZCentral from late last week, Eric Church distanced from the term.
“They did it different,” Church says of the Outlaws. “And that spirit was there, that spirit of ‘I’m gonna do my music how I want to do it and damn the consequences.’ I mean, I feel that. But I feel like the Outlaw word is the low-hanging fruit that everybody goes for. When you don’t really know how to identify something, you reach for that. And that part bothers me. I mean, I love that era of music. And it’s not just the Waylons and Willies. That was a broader era than just that. But the actual name of it is something that I think gets used a lot. And misused.”
But this isn’t the first time Eric Church and “Outlaw” have been used in conjunction, or he’s felt inclined to distance from it. On May 1st of 2012, Erich Church sat down for a chat with American Songwriter and made his feelings clear on using the term “Outlaw.”
American Songwriter: People have been calling you an outlaw. Is that an image you’ve tried to create for yourself?
Eric Church: Oh god. No! Not at all. I think we get thrown into that category because of our career path. For a long time, it wasn’t cool to play the kind of music we did. It wasn’t cool to talk about what we talked about. We were pariahs, and when we got fired from the Rascal Flatts tour, we were troublemakers. I think that’s where the outlaw name comes from, but I prefer to think there’s already been an outlaw movement, and I think we can leave it at that. I’m not into branding what we do, because that just sensationalizes things, when it should be about the music.
However at the exact same time Eric Church was uttering these words, and entire section of his merch catalog featured Outlaw-branded items, illustrating how much of Eric Church’s anti-marketing is simply marketing in itself.
But to be fair, no Eric Church “Outlaw” merch can be found these days, while the term continues to get stretched beyond all belief, most notoriously recently when Big Machine Records released a Mötley Crüe tribute album called Nashville Outlaws.
Eric Church remains one of the most polarizing figure in popular country music. But hopefully we can all agree that using the term “Outlaw” to describe anything originating off of Music Row these days is very likely a misnomer.