I've been watching Hee Haw on RFD Network this morning with the sound off and Americana flowing on the ipod. Roy Clark and Buck Owens and Donna Fargo, back in a time when only a few of us looked like Junior Samples.
Watching String Bean and Grampa Jones while listening to Julie Miller and Los Lonely Boys. Thinking about all the conversations on No Depression about old vs new, good vs bad.
The only thought I'm left with is that everything has a time, all art has an arc that looks like a flat line while we're on it.
We play our asses off and hope it'll never end, but of course it will. String Bean, in his time, was hip.
Hank Williams was my entry drug to this music, a long time ago.
Who was yours?
My dad had a Johnny Cash tape we played a lot way back when. Heard some old country stuff too. "They Year That Clayton Delaney Died" by Tom T. Hall stuck in my mind. Yes, Hee Haw was on TV too and I watched a fair amount, though I don't remember the music other than Buck Owens himself.
Next I got hooked on Jim Croce and for some reason I consider that a key part of the journey.
In the 80's I found Kristofferson, Lone Justice, James McMurtry, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam... and Austin City Limits.
But really the gateway to opening up the whole genre was when I found Robert Earl Keen, which eventually led me here.
"The Johnny Cash Show" and "Hee-Haw" started airing the same year; 1969. I was 11. Johnny Cash was "cool" in my crowd. He had Rock 'n Roll as well as Country musical guests. His songs were played on the AM Rock/Pop/R & B stations.
(Which is a subject for another blog. When did radio start to really SUCK! AM Rock stations used to play "the Beatles" followed by "Sly and the Family Stone" , "Herman's Hermits" , "The Who" , "Johnny Cash" , "James Brown" "Diana Ross & the Supremes" , "Glen Campbell" , "The Rolling Stones" "Roberta Flack" "Buffalo Springfield" etc.......but I digress.....)
"Hee-Haw" was not cool, but I loved the show. It was hilarious. It also had a Who's Who in Country music guest list.
Mr. Cash's show only lasted 2 years, but it and "Hee-Haw" arrived at a very important time in my life. I was starting to listen to my own music. I grew up with my father's Jazz and Classical. Still love both, but; rebellion, thy name is Rock 'n Roll. He couldn't stand it, or Country. Of course I had to listen. For some unknown reason , my parents let me watch both programs. It was the music that drew me to them. I'd never heard anything like it before.
So from 11-17, when I graduated High School, I was a closet Country music fan. Since then, I don't care what's cool or not. I'll listen to Dwight Yoakum then Anna Nalick, after a Kinks LP, right after listening to Son Volt and follow it with some Haydn, then some Louis Armstrong. But when your 11 - 17; ya keep your strangeness to yourself! Fitting in is what it's all about, and not a single soul I grew up with liked Country music.
I could only "come out" after joining the U. S. Army. Traveling and meeting people from every part of the country. It was cool to like Country. But for a long time Country and Rock were still unique genres. They didn't mix: much. The Byrds, Dylan, The Eagles etc. had some elements of country. The Flying Burrito Bros. were barely on the edge of my radar at the time. There was a very distinct line between the two. In my mind anyway. Equally great, but definitely separate.
Then I moved to North Carolina in 1990 and a few years later found Chip Robinson and "The Backsliders". The first group I'd heard that would play really raucous Rock , follow it up with a pure Country tune, then mix 'em together for a third (previously unknown to me) brand of music. I left N.C. for Texas in 1996 with "Live, from Raleigh N.C." blasting from the trucks stereo. I was in the crowd when it was recorded at "the Brewery". Had to rack my brain trying to remember the name of that bar. Went to Hillsborough St. at Google Maps. Could have sworn it was down the street from the "Cup a Joe". Sadly, it seems to no longer exist. It was a GREAT bar for "Live" music. At the time "Two Dollar Pistols", "Tift Merritt", Whiskeytown were playing the NC Triangle area, but I wasn't calling that style of music anything yet. It was all Rock 'n Roll to me.
A few years after arriving in Ft. Worth I walked into a bookstore and spied "The Backsliders" on the front cover of this magazine called "No Depression", issue #21. Of course I had to buy the thing, but what was this music? "TURNING ALT-COUNTRY MUSIC UPSIDE DOWN ( BIMONTHLY) it said. Alt-Country; new one on me.
That issue also just happened to review two Dallas-Ft. Worth area musicians, "the Old 97's" and " Ronnie Dawson". Read the mag from cover to cover. The articles, the reviews, the ads .... every single word. Went to see the Old 97's and was blown away. Alejandro Escovedo,the Gourds,Radney Foster, Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Volebeats and dozens of other great bands I found in just this one issue. So I bought the next issue, and the next. Then all the back issues I could find. Since that fateful day 80% of the music I've purchased has been related to ND magazine or the web site.
That's the long version.
Johnny Cash and Hee-Haw got me in the Country mood, but "THE BACKSLIDERS" found that place at the very center of my musical soul and they were the gateway to the incredible mix of musical styles we call Alt-Country or Americana.
"WHATEVER THAT IS"!
I have the Backsliders on my regular rotation in the home CD carousel. Bought their CD for a buck from a bargain barrel in a mall music store ten years ago and still like to hear them when they show up.
In the mid-80's i was into all the usual stuff (Smiths, REM, ECho & The Bunnymen). I quite liked 2 newer bands, Green On Red and Long Ryders but never gave their "country" influences any thought cos i wasn't into and knew nothing about it.
Then in a record shop one day i stumbled across an album by The International Submarine Band , i picked it up out of curiosity and found that the sleevenotes, on the back cover, were written by the Long Ryders singer, Sid Griffin. Read it, was fascinated by the story , bought it, loved it. And so the journey began.........................
Funny thing about that journey, isn't it? When I was a kid I listened to my dad's music- Hank and Patti Page and that strange mix of country and pop the one local radio station played. Then, in 1964, as a junior in high school, I was suddenly surrounded by the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan and Hootenannies, Trini Lopez and Joan Baez and so many different sounds. Now, I'm finding a new bunch of exciting singer/songwriters.....maybe the best bunch yet. It's been a great ride.
I kind of credit Sid Griffin too. Loved the Long Ryders and saw them live in the late 80s. Always seemed to like alternative bands that had country influences REM (had a lot of country in their early stuff), Dumptruck, Hoodoo Gurus, dBs, etc. But the Long Ryders were really the first band I liked that put the country before alternative. I always thought they don't get the credit they deserve for launching alt country. They were doing alt country before Uncle Tupelo even existed.
Thanks for telling me about the Long Ryders. I've never heard of them, or did and thought someone was talking about the Carradine brothers' movie about the James/Younger gang. I'll look them up. The first group I remember like that was Hearts and Flowers back in the late 60s.
You are welcome. Sid Griffin, the Long Ryders lead singer, now fronts the Coal Porters. He is also a musicologist and wrote a hard to find book on Gram Parsons. http://www.sidgriffin.com/about/
johnny cash and glen campbell
grateful dead, bob Dylan, Charlie daniels, allman brothers, marshall tucker, lynyrd skynyrd, jim croce
I'd start with Stephen Foster...then, just about any country-blues singer just out of slavery. The Carter Family...but, there were others....Louis Armstrong........Jimmie Rodgers.......Billie Holiday....Hank Williams..Johnny Cash....John Stewart....Ramblin' Jack had a lot to do with it..and if you know that lyrical reference, you know I put a lot of credence in Kris and CCR as wel. The Band, Dylan and The Basement Tapes from Big Pink...Gram Parsons deserves his due for the Cosmic Country stuf....but, going back again..Miles Davis, Cotrane and Kind of Blue.....stop me before I start singing...."we didn't start the fire!' ..it's a stream that flows through music from the beginning of America.....too academic though...just give me Chuck Berry and I'm happy..!
A great point about how impossible it is to make lists in this Americana community. The music came (and still comes) out of the times, and people like Zoe Neal Hurston and Stetson Kennedy, Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, though not musicians, shaped every song coming out of that era. And now we're in a new and commercially social time that, frankly, just confuses me. I think it's why younger musicians are attracted to 'roots' music that's simpler and less ambiguous.
And, yeah....Chuck Berry fits in there just fine.