Okay, I got a lot of hits and responses to my post on the dismal glitter parade that was the Country Music Awards. I’m encouraged that it was almost universally positive, though some was not (when will people get that just because I don’t like Taylor Swift’s songs or music I am not opining on her as a person? How many of these people know Taylor Swift personally? Maybe she’s a horrible diva that likes bathing in champagne and looking at her charting position and cackling “Suckers!!”), But I don’t just enjoy cursing the darkness (hilariously), I like to light a candle now and again.
The relationship of country music and Music City has been fraught with tension since Judge Hay started MCing the The Grand Ole Opry on the WSM Barn Dance from the fifth-floor radio studio of the National Life & Accident Insurance Company in downtown Nashville on November 1925. Music City is in the business of business. The product they have historically offered is, at its best, a reflection n tradition and heritage of the Amerivcan human soul, the good bad and the ugly. Trouble results when the bean counters weigh in on song creation, studio production and trends are chased, not because they are interesting branches or simpatico with the music, but just to cash in. This output is mediocre if monetarily profitable. As a fan, and not a shareholder, I find this unacceptable and a damn shame and am noy t shy to say as much.
I am currently reading the Ralph Stanley’s biography Man of Constant Sorrow and am struck by how resolute the man and his brother, Carter, was about keeping their “simple, mountain music sound” and how Ralph threatened to quite the band when the introduction of the new-fangled instrument ,the dobro, was considered as an addition to a Stanley Brothers song. Stanley was about 23 at the time. Can you imagine anyone that age starting out in music having that clear and focused of a vision of their music and not just will to allow outsiders to shape them to make as music as possible? Br. Stanley had a clear idea of their brand of “hillbilly music” and what the fans wanted it that he was willing to chuck the whole thing to save it.
I believe there are a few creators still out there today creating a brand of hillbilly music, maybe a more distant cousin of Stanly’s, but it’s no less bracing in it’s allegiance to tradition even as it breaks genre grounds in other directions. Covering the miles, often in a car or a van instead of a bus or charted plane, they bring grateful fans a sound that just can’t be found largely on commercial country radio, and willing to hang around the place afterward toseel a CD or shirt, press some flash, sign an autograph and take a picture or two.
Off the top of my head I offer from my home state of Texas Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, James Hand, Jake Penrod, Junior Brown, Hayes Carll and legends like Ray Willie Hubbard and Tommy Alverson. In other regions there is Joey Allcorn, Elizabeth Cook, Robbie Fulks, Chuck Mead and the new school with Those Darlins, Justin Townes Earle and William Elliott Whitmore, Grant Langston, Angela Easterling, the Felice Brothers , Lindsay Fuller, Amanda Shires, and many many more are out there many night of the year doing what they love telling their stories and leaving it all out on the stage.
Like i said in the original CMA post, I criticize because i come from this music. Its part of my Texas heritage and part of my family business. I love it and , like family, am not shy to pipe up when I think it’s done wrong.