On Memorial Day, I thought I’d pay tribute to a song by a fallen oldtimer.
One of the things I like about Shelton Hank III, and one of the things I’m sure you like is his open rebellion against pop country music. When you hear songs like ‘Trashville,’ Dick in Dixie,’ and ‘Not Everybody Likes Us,’ they get your blood flowing. They remind you that you’re not the only one that is sickened by modern country music, that there’s a whole legion of people out there ready to tear down pop country when the time comes.
But Hank III was not the first to sing about tearing down the corrupted institutions of Nashville. Since the beginning, Hank III has called himself an ‘Outlaw,’ willing to stand beside the legacies of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
Willie wrote the first Outlaw protest song, ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’ on his 1973 Shotgun Willie album. You could also argue this was the first Outlaw Country album. It was Willie’s first album with Atlantic, a rock label, after he left RCA in Nashville. Willie had complete creative control of Shotgun Willie. “Sad Songs and Waltzes’ message is subtle, but still clear and wise as Willie ever was.
“Though my record may say it, no one will play it, ’cause sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.”
Waylon Jennings was a little less tactful and clever, and a little more direct. In his 1975 album Dreaming My Dreams Waylon included ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.’ Waylon was not a huge songwriter but he wrote this one, and it single handedly flipped the bird at Nashville while paying tribute to Hank III’s grandad.
In this first video from The Highwaymen, note how Johnny Cash’s commentary on Hank Williams rolling over in his grave could be said word for word today and still be true, and also note Willie Nelson’s super mullet:
The great thing about this song is its simplicity. Two cords, no bridge or chorus, just a plodding beat, and Waylon’s great lead guitar. And this song wasn’t just some fringe anthem, it was a radio hit!
The reason I’m including this second version is because I like it, and also because it comes from the ‘Lost Outlaw Performance’ of 1978. That was recorded at the Grand Ole Opry, and this was the last song. Don’t think for a second that Waylon wasn’t sending a message, and that it isn’t the same message that Hank III is trying to send today:
So on the Memorial Day, let’s remember all the fallen, and show our respects by doing the right thing.
“We Need A Change . . . “