Lost Along The Way

Recently I posted that music industry gadfly Bob Lefsetz has recently discovered mainstream country radio on satellite radio. And he’s been posting them a big sloppy one ever since (Ooooo little Big Town , how like a poor man’s Fleetwood Mac you are!),but he’s dead on in his latest post about Bon Jovi’s recent excursion to the wrong side of the cultural tracks, put on some $1000. boots and tried their hand at country music. Bad idea!

Bon Jovi has had a much longer shelf-life than most of their big-haired brethren (hear that Poison?!) and it helps that Jon Bon Jovi has aged well enough that middle age women all over the nation want to still jump his bones. But good ass genes does not good music make.

Bon Jovi has been brilliant at keeping himself on the public eye. How many times have they played the Today show in the last few years? I bet it rivals Steve Martin’s record for hosting SNL (14). But just like with genes, exposure does not a great band make.

So now Bon Jovi goes where other metal bands have gone before. ”, Warrant’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and Poison’s “Something to Believe In” both were pop-metal forays into Southern-fried sounds and it succeeded about well as might think. If you suck at metal why wouldn’t you suck at country?

The mistake that these bands make is looking at the money and demographics of mainstream country and calculating that it’s a smart business decision. Business, not passion. When Michael Ness of Social Distortion covers Ring Of Fire it’s not because he thinks “There sure are a lot of Cash fans that will buy this.” He does it because he respects what Johnny did and HAS to pay tribute.

Will I listen to Bob Jovi new release “Lost Highway”? Probably not, I’ve heard it before. Pop-country is like mosquitoes in Nashville. Everywhere and sucking.

Bob Lefsetz Does Country

I usually hang on every acerbic and insightful post from music business gadfly Bob Lefsetz. He’s a no bullshit guy that sees the bloody writing on the wall for the big labels and pulls no punches. I hope this blog allows me to do 1/16th of what he’s been able to do in exposing the hypocrisy and crap in the music industry and also point the way to a great talents that are trying make a difference and do great work.

But recently Mr. Levitz was caught in L.A. Traffic and came across Sirius radio Channel 60, “New Country” who, by the blurb on their web site states they play ” Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney.”

Lefsetz writes that while listening to the station that:

“…every one of (the) words rang true and glowed like burnin’ coal, pourin’ off of every page like it was written from me to you, but I was not tangled up in blue, I was laughing, I was alive, I was ECSTATIC! This was a joy I hadn’t experienced in oh-so-long!

But I don’t know shit about country. Maybe this is the crap. Maybe this is the stuff those deep into it rail about. Then I realized, I was the target audience, I was fucking IGNORANT!”

I’m here to tell you Bob, you are listening to the crap, and allow me to school you.

You are a fucking genius savant when talking about rock and pop of the past, present and future, but when you stray into country music, I won’t say “fucking ignorant”, but I will say sadly naive.

What you were listening to was the country equivalent of listening to Beyoncé or Fallout Boy. Sad, shallow reproductions of artists that came before that did it not just do it better, but did it in a way that was breathtaking and dangerous. What you were listening to was formula, contrivances and confection.

You pine for the days of the Beatles, Stones and Hendrix. When the Velvet Underground and the Stooges were punching sonic holes in the cultural malaise of the 70’s. If you’re looking for the contemporary country equivalent of that, then you’re not going to find in on Channel 60, “New Country.”

The country equivalent to these ground-breaking artists, the giants that the current talent of country artists are standing on the shoulders of is Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. It’s the Allman Brothers and The Band. It’s Lynyrd Skynyrd, X, Jason and the Scorchers. Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam.

You’re more likely to find these artists on the Dallas area station Lone Star 92.5 that, despite being a Clear Channel station, is taking risks and plays artists that better represent the spirit you crave. Bands like The Drive By Truckers and the Bottle Rockets. Artists like Hank Williams III and Shooter Jennings. But Lone Star 92.5s are hard to find just as great rock stations are. The playlists are still the most common framework for commercial radio, and playlist are driven by sales.

Shooter Jenning’s band, the .357s comes closer to Led Zeppelin than the comparison you draw between Zeppelin and Tim McGraw. Tim McGraw is less Led Zeppelin and more Peter Frampton.

There is great country music out there and Bob Lefsetz, with a little counseling, is just the gauge that will recognize it. I for one would love for him to turn his laser eye on the Nashville money machine and the way it takes great talent and churns out dull, gray sausage.