Tag Archives: country music

My Country Gold

Thirty years ago, back when I composed my first tune,
country music wasn’t all that cool;
anyone who said so, was a fool,
and better off in engineering school.

The only exceptions: Waylon, Willie, John and June;
everybody else seemed pretty old;
and despite the records that they sold,
they seemed to leave me pretty cold.

It seems since Hank the Senior died,
you want to know the truth,
that country music lost its sense of innocence and youth;
and split itself from rock and roll
to give the city folks
something they could ridicule with cleverness and jokes.
So despite I what I knew inside,
I left that music be;
pretending that it wasn’t part of me.

Thirty years ago, when I first figured how to play
most country singers came to stardom late;
hell, Merle Haggard sung his first at 28;
mixing youth and country? Don’t hallucinate.

Who’d a thought that things would change to how they are today?
Past thirty, and you haven’t too much chance;
You’re judged by how you fill out some tight pants;
And history? Forget it. Learn to dance.

It seems to me, since Elvis died,
you want to know the truth,
that country music figured it had best reclaim the youth;
and joined itself to rock and roll
to convince city folks
they could wear cowboy boots and not
be thought of as a joke.
So despite I what I knew inside,
I left that music be;
pretending that it wasn’t part of me.

Thirty years gone by, and only me that’s still the same;
listening to ol’ Merle and Bill Monroe;
measuring the hours as they go;
too old for stardom out on Music Row.

No regrets, and country music surely’s not to blame;
I’ve no consistent action to defend;
no single kind of music as my friend;
just wonderings and lots of might have beens.

It seems to me since Johnny died,
you want to know the truth,
that country music’s cut old age and now clings to the youth;
who start from rock and and roll
and write to give the city folks
a way to reconnect with life between this great land’s coasts.
Because it’s what I know inside,
though now I’m far too old;
I still pan for that solid country gold.

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Downhome and Blue

The mockingbird sitting out in the oak tree
Is trying his whole repertoire out on me:
from bluebird to chickadee,
freight train to snake in the grass.

The afternoon’s fading slow into the night
casting the back porch in dappled sunlight,
where substance and shadow each
dance while the moments go past.

Break out your banjo, that old mandolin;
I’ll pull out my guitar and count us all in.
We’ll start with some old ones
I’m sure we all know half way through.
Add in that fiddle and that tambourine;
settle in mellow. You know what I mean.
Just it flow, let it go for an hour or two…
play me some downhome and blue.

Pour you some coffee, or fresh lemonade;
find you a comfortable spot in the shade.
There’s plenty of room on the porch
if everyone wants to sprawl.

The cool of the evening won’t bother us none
once we’re warmed up and the music’s begun;
we’ll heat up the night some, all right,
having ourselves a ball.

Break out your washboard, that old pair of spoons;
I’ll pull out my dobro and start off a tune.
We’ll start with some old ones
that maybe our grandfathers’ knew.
Add in that fiddle, accordion too;
settle in mellow. You know what to do.
Just it flow, let it go for an hour or two…
play me some downhome and blue.

12 APR 2006

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A Hillbilly Song

To you the distinction might sound a bit silly
But I’m not a redneck, I’m an old hillbilly:
Brought up on the green rolling range of the greater midwest.

On 4H work projects and chores in the morning,
long thunderstorms coming up without a warning;
the FFA and those blue ribbons pinned onto my chest.

Fried chicken and taters, homemade jam and bread;
enough sense to not let it go to my head;
an honest wage for a day’s work – woman, girl, boy or man.

Miles stretched out in corn, soybeans and winter wheat;
long underwear, overalls and bare feet;
for piano and guitar lessons, you pay what you can.

Blue collar hand-me-downs and hands always dirty;
work well past sundown and up at 5:30;
good dogs and good food and good times at the swimming hole.

Guitars tuned right, and strong voices together;
harmony tight, shoes of worn out old leather;
gospel and bluegrass and country and good rock and roll.

To you the distinction might sound a bit silly,
but I’m not a redneck, I’m a damn hillbilly;
not looking to fight, just be happy and do my own thing.

Hills, creekbeds and valleys, fishponds and stone lanes;
your word as your bond and expecting the same;
and sound from the ground at your feet when you start in to sing.

3 MAR 2006

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Why is a Cat Like a Sidewalk?

OK, there’s a joke that runs something like this:

Q: If a hen and a half can lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, why is a cat like a sidewalk?
A: Because neither one of them can play the piano, of course.

In other words, life is often a scintillating series of surreal non sequiturs, and to the untrained, or unobservant eye, can seem to be nothing more than random, chaotic events.

Which brings me to my point of the day:

If you have never lived in the country, or have some actual genealogical ties to rural America, or at a minimum lived in proximity to the large masses of flyover country that border upon rural America, how authentic is your country music? If you don’t know at least one farmer, let’s say, or cowboy or rancher or sharecropper or cross-country truck driver or redneck-hillbilly-cracker-coonass-mudbug-hick, and you’re not or haven’t ever been one of the previous, how authentic can your expression of traditional rural music be?

It’s one thing to exploit the milieu of a musical form, either in novelty or parody or insult. And it’s another to pay tribute to a musical form that speaks to your heart or mind. To me, the majority of Americana artists out there today, particularly those who are considered alt.country, fall into one of these two camps. They’ve never seen a cow, or been beyond the Holland Tunnel, or traveled outside of a comfortable cellphone service area. Like today’s punks, who can buy suits off the shelf on Melrose Avenue that have been ripped apart and safety pinned back together, they may buy clothes at Walmart or thrift stores but it’s not because they HAVE to. It’s because they are trying to portray a certain kind of image — the kind that Old Navy with it’s brand new “trucker” hats and Hot Topic with its pressed and freshly embossed Clash t-shirts — an image that is not who THEY are. It’s somebody else’s dream (or considering the plight of the average farmer/truck driver, somebody else’s nightmare). The truth is this: nobody who HAS to work in a shirt with their name on it really WANTS that kind of job. It’s not cool to be covered in grease, or coal black, or road dust, or chicken feathers or cowshit. It’s not cool to be looked down on by the vulture doctors and lawyers who infest small towns and use up three quarters of the phone book preying on their aging, gullible and high-risk-for-accident neighbors. It’s not cool to speak with a drawl on a visit to New York and immediately be thought a moron or retarded, even though your IQ may be at least 20 points higher than the fast-talking, sharp-dressed go-getter who shoved their way in front of you in line at Starbucks.

As I’ve said before, part of the problem is that country music CANNOT be country music and have national significance. It is regional. Cajun music, while perhaps appreciated in Maine, is of both greater import and viriliity in Louisiana. What plays in Mecklenburg shouldn’t be the same as what plays in Bakersfield, unless somebody from one is on tour in the other. Not to say that there shouldn’t be cross-pollenization, or that one style can’t learn from another. But what should be most important to country music fans should be LOCAL music first. And live music, at that.

It’s about interpretation, filtered through experience, tempered by environment, forged by connection.

Or it ain’t country music. It’s, to paraphrase Johnny Cash, Nashville trying to sell records to folks who buy cowboy boots in New York City.

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Seasons After Spring

I’m just an outlaw over 40
with no airtime on the radio today
where each hot new hit’s a retrofit
of juvenile emotion and cliche;
but I’m laughing at the demographics
every time I get a chance to play
’cause for me real country music isn’t
about some gold records on display.

I’m just an outlaw over 40
far beyond my prime for video appeal
where the song need tell no story
if the actors on the screen can keep it real;
and to write about the fight against
such fantasy can break your record deal.
I won’t say that it’s not country, but
it’s whistle steam that never turns the wheel.

Music’s not just for the young,
not an excuse to sell CDs.
It’s about speaking from your heart;
at least, that’s how it is for me.
If music doesn’t help you grow,
it’s not much good for anything;
and only growing older makes
songs that have seasons after spring.

I’m just an outlaw over 40
whose wild days of drinking binges are long past
and who’s started slowing down to find
those things along the path that tend to last.
You may laugh at my appearance
and believe this song should be played twice as fast;
but it’s not your song, it’s mine; when you
build your own car, you can waste your own gas.

I’m just an outlaw over 40
who can’t line dance or pretend it’s not too loud
if I can’t hear myself think, and tend to
get a little frightened by the crowd
that is full of fight and vinegar, not doing much
but acting tough and proud.
I won’t say that’s not my country, but
intruding on my space is not allowed.

Music’s not just for the young,
to sell some product on TV.
It’s about sharing of your life;
at least, that’s how it is for me.
If music doesn’t help you learn,
it’s not much good for anything;
and only learning to grow old
makes songs with seasons after spring.

19 NOV 2005

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The Honkytonk Manifesto

Real country music is not defined by its performers, recording studios or media labels. It is not a style of music so much as it is the embodiment of a way of life.

Real country music’s appeal is universal because it is at its heart uniquely and profoundly personal.

Real country music is always more applicable regionally or geographically than nationally or internationally. Without each region having its own local flavor and style, country music as we know it would never have been birthed, or evolved.

As a result, real country music may require a commitment of the entire heart, sound and mind of its writers, singers, musicians and listeners. That is because they do not define country music. It defines them.

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Thoughts on Willie Nelson

Thoughts on Willie Nelson:

I read a quote recently where someone said (and I paraphrase) that “considering all Willie Nelson has done for America, he should be exempt from paying taxes for the rest of his life.” Well, I agree. Willie has got one of those voices (and by that I mean both his phrasing, dynamics and identification with his subject matter) that is unique in country music. It’s one of those voices that you love or hate. With me, Willie’s voice has always had the same appeal as Bob Dylan’s – the quality of the voice alone portrays so much more than any lyric it communicates. I’ve also been an admirer of Willie Nelson for as long as I remember. The first time I heard one of his songs, I was impressed by the way he used “ten dollar words.” To me, he’s one of the great lyricists in American music – comparable to say Sammy Cahn or Cole Porter. There’s always insider information available to the attentive student, and it’s always delivered in such a way that you’re never really quite sure whether or not you are among the select few who “get it.” That, in a song, is magical. There’s always a lot of talk about how Willie “bucked the system.” But I think, like any true revolutionary, Willie realizes that there was only so much he could do from the outside. That’s why his songs were so important when they were recorded by “Nashville” artists. You hear the strings, or heavy reverb, or whatever studio effects are added to enhance the cross-over potential, but underneath, like an artery coursing vital nutrients to the brain, there’s that bite, that essential life force. That, to me, is Willie Nelson.

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