- 2007, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill receive the Academy of Country Music’s Career Achievement Award when they kick off their Soul2Soul 2007 concert tour at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska
- 1992, Wynonna Judd’s first solo album, “Wynonna,” goes gold and platinum
- 1980, The John Travolta movie “Urban Cowboy” premieres. It includes music by Kenny Rogers, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, Anne Murray, The Eagles, The Charlie Daniels Band, Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and J.D. Souther
- 1945, Don Reid is born in Staunton, Virginia. In 1961, he joins a gospel harmony group that becomes The Statler Brothers, netting more than 30 hits from 1965-1989 on its way into the Country Music Hall of Fame
- 2006, Loretta Lynn breaks her left shoulder during a fall at home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, requiring her to cancel nine concerts through July
- 2003, CMT tapes a concert at Nashville’s Gaylord Entertainment Center for its special “100 Greatest Songs Of Country Music.” The lineup of performers includes Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, George Jones, Deana Carter, Kenny Chesney, LeAnn Rimes, Martina McBride and Sara Evans
- 1982, Alabama sponsors the first June Jam in Fort Payne, Alabama. More than 30,000 attend the charity concert near the high school, where the hometown band shares the stage with Janie Fricke, The Oak Ridge Boys, Louis Mandrell and R.C. Bannon
- 1975, Reprise releases Emmylou Harris’ first hit, “If I Could Only Win Your Love”
Let’s all wish Little Big Town’s Jimi Westbrook and Karen Fairchild a very happy seventh wedding anniversary on Friday (May 31) and breathe a sigh of relief that their solid marriage in real life isn’t at all like the one they portray in their new video for “Your Side of the Bed.” If you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself to come face to face with the reality of a loveless kind of love. The couple told CMT Radio that kind of relationship is something every couple can relate to. “I think if you’ve been in any kind of long relationship you have felt this moment at some point,” Fairchild said. Westbrook added. “You’ve just felt some kind of disconnect, and yet you’re in the room with the person that you love. And you want to fix it, but sometimes you don’t know how.” To make the song even more heartbreaking, Fairchild and Westbrook sing it as a duet with lyrics like, “Aren’t you even gonna make a sound/Turn the other way when I turn the lights down/Are you lonely like I’m lonely?” It’s one of those great country songs that has a message. Not necessarily any answers, but there’s definitely a message.
Or Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire? Alabama and The Oak Ridge Boys? Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson? George Jones and Merle Haggard? Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell? Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb? Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family?
Well, we know country was pure somewhere back there. Wasn’t it?
Not really. Country music is replete with complaints about how bad it is now and how good it was then. The problem is that “now” keeps inching forward and turning into “then.”
During the International Country Music Conference held recently at Nashville’s Belmont University, critic Karen Raizor presented a paper that was whimsically titled That Ain’t No Hank Williams Song: Country Songs About How Country Doesn’t Sound Country Anymore.
The first part of her title comes from the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. It’s the line sputtered by the indignant manager of a country honky-tonk after Jake and Elwood Blues take the stage and break into “Gimme Some Lovin’” — to the bottle-throwing consternation of the crowd. The brothers make amends by switching to the theme from the old TV series Rawhide.
Raizor used the clip to illustrate the level of hostility musical betrayal — or the perception of it — can generate. Singers we now look back upon as exemplars of traditional country were not always considered so, she said, noting that the eminent music collector and scholar John Edwards had once labeled Webb Pierce a “citybilly.”
In 1965, Raizor continued, Buck Owens bought an ad in the Music City News declaring, “I shall sing no song that is not a country song. I shall make no record that is not a country record.”
This pledge did not prevent him from subsequently recording Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” and “Johnny B. Goode” and Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange.”
Raizor also noted that Waylon Jennings, the very essence of Outlaw country, had once recorded Jimmy Webb’s psychedelic confection, “MacArthur Park,” and won a Grammy for it.
That permeable barrier between what is and isn’t country, Raizor said, was more recently breached when The Band Perry covered Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” on a TV show and Jimmy Wayne recorded a version of Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile.”
Throughout her presentation of shock waves in country music, Raizor carefully avoided uttering the names “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Billy Ray Cyrus,” instead referring to them in mock horror only as “that which must never be mentioned — ABH/BRC.”
As further evidence of the ongoing clash between country traditionalists and progressives, Raizor cited Justin Tubb’s “What’s Wrong With the Way That We’re Doing It Now,” which emerged just after the movie Urban Cowboy pushed country music into the national spotlight.
More recent examples, she observed, were Alan Jackson and George Strait’s “Murder on Music Row,” which lamented that real country music had been killed by commercial considerations, and Brad Paisley’s “Too Country,” a doleful tune that essentially shamed people for looking down on old-time themes and singers.
Other songs Raizor offered as evidence that the battle still rages included Doug Sahm’s 1999 protest, “Oh No! Not Another One” (with the immortal lines “There was a young dude walking across the stage like a gazelle/Hell, I’ll bet he never even heard of Lefty Frizzell”), Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers’ “Johnny Cash Is Dead and His House Burned Down,” Hank Williams III’s “Not Everybody Likes Us” and comedian Tim Wilson’s “Back When Country Was Ugly.”
Some troubadours have been particularly vociferous and profane in their lyrical condemnation of modern country, Raizor warned, rolling out such prickly examples as Hank III’s “Dick in Dixie,” Robbie Fulks “F**k This Town” and Dale Watson’s “Country My Ass.”
(Raizor also played Watson’s response to Blake Shelton’s recent comments about “old farts” in country music.)
Heather Myles was a tad more gentle in her scolding, Raizor admitted, merely asserting “Nashville’s Gone Hollywood.”
And now the war between purity and pollution has spread to bluegrass, Raizor announced as she prepared to leave the podium.
She reminded the audience that the International Bluegrass Music Association’s song of the year last year was Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice’s indictment of apostates, “A Far Cry From Lester & Earl.”
Can’t we all just get along?
- 2009, George Strait’s “Troubadour” album is certified platinum
- 2000, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney are arrested in Buffalo, after a backstage skirmish at Ralph Wilson Stadium on the George Strait tour, as Chesney takes a ride on a policeman’s horse, and McGraw gets in a fight with cops. They are acquitted in May
- 1972, Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A.” takes the top spot on the Billboard country chart
- 1948, Frederick LaBour is born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He becomes Too Slim, of Riders In The Sky, whose preservation of western music helps them become members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1982
- 2011, Shania Twain receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- 1999, Shania Twain’s “Come On Over” album is certified for shipments of 11 million copies, temporarily tying it with her own “The Woman In Me” as the best-selling album by a country female
- 1992, Martina McBride begins her first major concert tour, opening for Garth Brooks in Denver, Colorado
- 1985, Roger Miller and the Broadway production of “Big River” win seven Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Score
- 2011, Luke Bryan tapes an installment of “CMT Crossroads” with The Doobie Brothers at The Factory in Franklin, Tennessee. Included in the set list: “Do I,” “Rain Is A Good Thing,” “Long Train’ Runnin’” and “China Grove”
- 2002, Mary Chapin Carpenter marries contractor Timmy Smith in Batesville, Virginia. In attendance: Terri Clark, actor Sissy Spacek, rocker Dave Matthews, and songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman and Annie Roboff
- 1991, Diamond Rio scores its first #1 single on the Billboard country chart with “Meet In The Middle”
- 1964, Dolly Parton moves to Nashville a day after her high school graduation and meets her future husband, Carl Dean, at a laundromat
- 2008, Rascal Flatts guitarist Joe Don Rooney and Tiffany Fallon have a son, Jagger Donovan Rooney, in Nashville
- 1995, Shania Twain earns her first gold album, for “The Woman In Me”
- 1986, “Whoever’s In New England” takes Reba McEntire to #1 on the Billboard country chart
- 1954, Steel player Paul Franklin is born in Detroit. Beginning his studio career on Gallery’s 1972 pop hit “It’s So Nice To Be With You,” Franklin plays on country hits by George Strait, Alan Jackson, Rascal Flatts and Shania Twain, among others
So it’s been almost 40 years since the heyday of the Outlaw movement in country music and now the sure signs of Outlaw nostalgia are sprouting all around us. We have a whole new young generation of country singers who try to talk and look Outlaw, as if it were a costume you could buy at the Halloween store.
And now there are outcroppings of serious considerations of the Outlaw times. There’s a new book that takes a scholarly approach to the movement, and there’s an ambitious video project underway under the aegis of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
To backtrack, a simple summary, and I do mean simple summary, of the Outlaw movement is that basically in the early 1970s some country music mavericks began chafing under the feudal system in place in Nashville.
The record label heads and the record producers — often the same people — ran Nashville. They decided who would be signed to the labels. They decided what songs each artist would record, who would produce the session and which backing artists would play on the records.
It was almost always an all-male group of favored studio musicians who played on most Nashville records. Then the record label head/producer produced the session and decided which song would be the first single to be sent to country radio — which is a whole ‘nother story altogether.
That system began to be challenged in the early 1970s, first by Waylon Jennings, who mainly wanted to record what he wanted, where he wanted and with his road band.
Meanwhile, Willie Nelson had given up on Nashville and moved to Austin, where he discovered a new audience at the Armadillo World Headquarters. He called his buddy Waylon to come on down and share this new crowd of hippies and cowboys.
Willie also recorded Red Headed Stranger on his own in Dallas with minimal musical accompaniment. His label, Columbia, initially rejected it but finally gave in. It became his biggest hit ever.
Once Willie and Waylon gained control of their recordings and began selling in platinum numbers, everything changed. Everyone in Nashville understood the power of money.
To make a very long story short, it seemed that everybody became an Outlaw and discovered cocaine. As the movement became ungainly and crowded, it was replaced by, of all things, the Urban Cowboy movement.
Now those days are being relived and recalled by a couple of new projects. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is partnering with Austin-based filmmaker Sean Geadelmann for an ambitious documentary called They Called Us Outlaws.
The title stems from an interview Geadelmann did with Kris Kristofferson. In it, Kristofferson said, “I don’t think that would’ve been the brand name we would’ve chosen. To be outlaws. I think we went our own way and spoke our own words because we believed in them. And believed in that’s what we were set down on the planet to do. We weren’t worried about commerciality. Because it didn’t make any difference if we were on the Hit Parade or whether we were making a lot of money. It was whether we were doing the good work … writing soulful songs.”
Another current project is a book to be published June 4. Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville is by Michael Streissguth, who teaches at Le Moyne in Syracuse, N.Y., and has written books on Johnny Cash, among others.
I find it interesting that Streissguth emphasizes that the roots of the Outlaw movement stretch equally from Nashville’s West End to Austin and beyond and encompass singer/songwriters ranging from Kris, Waylon and Willie, to Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and a host of others. It was, he argues, a spontaneous movement that would have happened no matter what and who was involved. It was a declaration of independence by like-minded individuals.
Interestingly, he feels that the initial spark came from Nashville’s civil rights movement and lunch counter sit-ins. That same sense of revolt and progressivism spread to Nashville’s music community.
OKLAHOMA CITY – “I’m here tonight with some of my closest friends from Oklahoma and beyond to help with the rebuilding of this land that means so much to me,” Blake Shelton said to kick off his Healing in the Heartland event on Wednesday night (May 29). The proceeds from the one-hour show will be going to the United Way to fund Oklahoma’s short- and long-term needs.
Shelton didn’t waste any time getting down to the business of music for the Oklahoma City event that sold out the Chesapeake Energy Arena just five minutes after tickets went on sale. “God Gave Me You” was his opening song, with a slight lyric change toward the end: “He gave me people like you all,” Shelton sang.
Darius Rucker was there to show his support, doing “True Believers.” As was Miranda Lambert, who could barely get through “The House That Built Me” without crying. Rascal Flatts took the stage to sing “I Won’t Let Go,” and Ryan Tedder from One Republic performed the band’s “Counting Stars.”
Later in the night, Reba McEntire came out to sing “Everyday People” and to recognize the first responders in the audience. Luke Bryan also came in for the show and performed his new single, “Crash My Party.”
The highlight of the night seemed to be Vince Gill saying, “It’s sure good to be home.” He sang his Grammy-nominated “Threaten Me With Heaven.” It was the perfect choice, because, as Gill said, he was doing it for the 24 people who didn’t make it.
Pleas for help poured in from stars throughout the show. In video footage, Carrie Underwood said, “Long after the tornado has gone, and the camera crews have left, the devastation will remain. Please join me in helping.” Then Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood each took time to ask for viewers to lend a hand. “Sixteen minutes,” Brooks said. “That’s the only warning these people had.”
Toby Keith, who was raised right in Moore, Okla., where the tornado touched down, called attention to the day of heartbreak and heroes. “People in Oklahoma reacted as they always do in a time of crisis: with strong hands and compassionate hearts,” he said.
At the end of the show, Shelton came to the stage one more time to sing his perfectly fitting “Home,” inviting Usher — his friend from The Voice — to join him on the song, with a message that resonated far beyond Oklahoma.