TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Outlawing Nashville

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 16, 2011

 
As Waylon Jennings put it back in the late ’70s, “Don’t y’all think this outlaw bit’s done got out of hand?”
A current odious trend in modern country music is the rise of the pre-fab “outlaw.” Chet Flippo lamented this a few months ago in his column on the Country Music Television website:

“Nowadays, country music seems to have recently gotten outlaws again. Gotten outlaws in the same way that some people have gotten ants or bedbugs or cockroaches. We have a new infestation. To be sure, they’re small outlaws, but they are insistent that they are here.”

Who is he talking about? New Nashville hats like Josh Thompson, Eric Church, and a guy named Justin Moore, of whom Flippo says, “If he’s a true outlaw, then Miss Piggy is Dolly Parton.”

 Flippo continues: “What’s a bit alarming is that we seem to have cultivated a generation of young, male country performers who are preoccupied with displaying Outlaw attitude and Outlaw posturing, as opposed to developing real Outlaw musical content.”

What would Waylon think? Well, he’s gone to the honky-tonk in the sky, so we’ll never really know.  

But his son Shooter Jennings has weighed in on these would-be honky-tonk heroes namechecking his dad and other outlaw icons. He’s creating a nifty little controversy with a new song and video called “Outlaw You.”

He makes fun of the “perfect boots you got from your record label’s image group,” and he tells the story of his dad, perhaps overstating it a bit when he says that Waylon and Willie and the boys “freed the slaves.”

He’s talking about singers who wanted to record their own songs with their own bands instead of the songs and studio musicians assigned by producers.

“Hey, pretty boy in the baseball hat / You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat,” Shooter sings in the chorus. His conclusion: “They should outlaw you.”

The cool thing is that Shooter was able to get the song played on CMT, where it rose to the top three. He had at least one ally over there — Flippo CMT’s editorial director.

Check out the comments on the CMT site — Shooter succeeded in stirring up the hornet’s nest. He’s got his defenders who say, “About time!” while fans of the Mini-Me outlaws say that Shooter is the real poser.

But in reality, the younger Jennings is following a country and alt-country tradition of songs about sticking it to Nashville’s Music Industrial Complex that’s been going on at least since the ’90s.

His 2005 debut album was called Put the O Back in Country. The title song, set to the tune of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country,” had lyrics like “You know that ain’t country music you been listenin’ to. ... There ain’t no soul on the radio.”

Below are some of my favorite Nashville-bashing tunes of this ilk.

* “Fuck This Town” by Robbie Fulks. The song was written out of frustration after Fulks’ unsuccessful attempt to make it as a Nashville songwriter in the mid-’90s. Says Fulks, “This ain’t country-western, it’s just soft-rock feminist crap / And I thought things had hit bottom in the days of Ronnie Milsap.”

* “The Grand Old Opry Ain’t So Grand Any More” by Hank Williams III. The grandson of Hank Williams talks about how “real rebels” like Waylon, Johnny Paycheck, and Jimmy Martin, as well as Hanks Sr. and Jr. were never really welcomed by the uptight country establishment. Hank III plows some of the same ground on his song “Dick in Dixie” released around the same time as Shooter’s “O Back in Country” (which was a cause of friction between the two).

* “Murder on Music Row.” This lament started out as a bluegrass song by Larry Cordell & Country Standard Time. But then it got recorded as a duet by mainstream country traditionalists George Strait and Alan Jacksonand received the Country Music Association’s Vocal Event of the Year award in 2000, even though it had lyrics like “Someone killed country music/Cut out its heart and soul / They got away with murder down on Music Row.”

Jim Terr in his guise as "Buddy"

* “Oh Brother, Where’s the Hits?” by Jim Terr. The Santa Fe satirist thumbed his nose at Nashville back when the the bluegrass-heavy O Brother, Where Art Thou?soundtrack — for a couple of minutes at least — seemed to overshadow all the sappy dribble Music Row was churning out. “We’ll learn to fake sincerity, of all the details that’s the key / To pullin’ on your heartstrings and your goldurn MasterCard.”

Dale Watson at Broken Spoke 3-23-11
Dale Watson and his fiddler

* “Nashville Rash” by Dale Watson. The little giant of Texas honky-tonk has done several songs talking about how commercial country music sucks. This one, from his 1995 album Cheatin’ Heart Attack is my favorite. “I’m too country now for country, just like Johnny Cash.”

 

* “Long Time Gone” by Dixie Chicks. Even before the Chicks became traitors in the eyes of many right-wingers because Natalie Maines said that she was ashamed to be from the same state as George W. Bush, they were biting the hand of the industry that fed them. Dumping on the country radio of the day, Maines sang “The music ain’t got no soul / They sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard / They have money but they don't have Cash."

* "Let's Go Burn  Ole Nashville Down” by Mojo Nixon & Jello Biafra. Set to the tune of “Old Joe Clark,” this is a classic country/punk romp. This song took on the sad state of country music in the '90s while boldly declaring "Country don't have flutes!"

JON LANGFORD
Jon Langford

* “Nashville Radio/The Death of Country Music” by Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild. Here’s an elegant 11-minute dreamlike medley complete with electric sitar. “Nashville Radio” is a moving account of Hank Williams Sr.’s demise: “I gave my life to country music, I took my pills and lost / Now they don’t play my songs on the radio / Feels like I never was.” This turns into “The Death of Country Music” — originally recorded by the Waco Brothers, another Langford band, it’s a sneer at people “picking the flesh off the bones” of country music. “We spill some blood on the ashes of the bones of the Jones and the Cashes / Skulls in false eyelashes / Ghost riders in the sky.”  

 I will play all these songs on the Santa Fe Opry on Friday night  on KSFR-FM 101.1 or www.ksfr.org

 Check out the “Outlaw You” video  below:

 

Views: 675

Tags: terrell's, tuneup

Comment by Marybeth D'Amico on September 17, 2011 at 11:32am
Great article! Just to give the songwriter his due, I wanted to mention that "Long Time Gone" was written by Darrell Scott.
Comment by Jack Williams on September 17, 2011 at 12:20pm

Ditto!   Singer/songwriter/journalist Peter Cooper wrote a great article on this same topic too.

 

Comment by hyperbolium.com on September 17, 2011 at 7:14pm

+1 on the credit-where-credit's due for Darrell Scott!

 

Comment by Roy Peak on September 19, 2011 at 2:48pm
Great songs, all of them. Awesome article!
Comment by Travis McClain on September 20, 2011 at 4:13am

Nothing irritates me more than Johnny Come Latelys name-checking veteran performers as evidence they're "real" country.  You want to convince me that you're a student of Haggard or Cash?  Quit dropping their names into your songs and start actually writing and recording songs about something.  Those two guys were social activists, covering everything from Viet Nam to the treatment of Native Americans and the treatment of inmates.  If today's country artists have anything to say about those topics at all, it's to peddle a banal endorsement of their listener's base views and champion it as the minority opinion for which one should not apologize.  Big deal.  So you stand up and say we need to execute more criminals on a radio format popular with the death penalty crowd; wow.  Really taking a stand there, hoss.

 

If a newcomer wanted to wow me, they'd sing about immigration--and take the side of the immigrants.  They'd sing about LGBT bullying--and take the side of the LGBT kids.

 

I'm a pretty big Waylon fan; he's probably wielded more influence on me than any other musician.  When I heard him say, "There's always one more way to do things, and that's your way, and you have a right to try it at least once," man, I just knew he was talking to me personally.  Chet Atkins told Waylon later on in his career that he was certain in the 60s and 70s that Waylon was out to destroy Nashville, and it took him quite a while to understand that wasn't Waylon's fight at all.  He wasn't out to destroy anything, but rather to make music his way.  It wasn't a fight <i>against</i> anything; it was a fight <i>for</i> something.  Too many posers today don't understand that.  Go back and listen to <i>This Time</i>, <i>Dreaming My Dreams</i> and <i>Waylon, the Ramblin' Man</i> and what you'll notice is there are few songs that say anything about drinking or carrying on.  Instead, you'll hear some of the most tender love songs of their era ("Amanda," "Dreaming My Dreams with You," "You Ask Me To").  There are, of course, outlaw anthems like "I'm a Ramblin' Man," but they don't dominate those albums.

 

I could go on about this nonsense all day, but I was in bed sick all day yesterday and I'm drained.  I've been on a Waylon kick for about three weeks now, so this caught me at the right time.  Gonna fire up my turntable and throw on some Waylon on vinyl to purge myself of this irritation at the wannabes.

Comment by Curtis Ray Barclift on September 20, 2011 at 5:06am
The problem with these Outlaw wannabes is that the fans of mainstream country really don't care that much about music in general and they'll buy this corporate created outlaw garbage, in both meanings of the word buy.   You can fool some of the people all of the time, and that applies to music as well as politics.  Everything about mainstream country is fake, the sound, the look, the attitude.  My wife and I went to the Country/Western Hall of Fame in Nashville a few years back and they show a short film "explaining" country music before you go in.  The part I remember was an interview with a gaggle of giggling young girls who were all bubbly about "they took out that twang, we didn't like that twang, now we like country music".   In the C&W Hall of Fame!!!  They were celebrating the murder of country music!  I truly hope that they've stopped showing that atrocity.  Long live Robbie Fulks!  The Buck stops here!
Comment by SlimHadley on September 20, 2011 at 8:19am

Curtis Ray, you done hit the nail right on the head with "...a gaggle of giggling young girls who were all bubbly about "they took out that twang, we didn't like that twang, now we like country music".  It's all about profit & marketshare; always was. Old days with mainstream Country wasn't about appealing to young girls- specifically.  Profit & marketshare came from the rural folks & cityfied rural folks & whoever else might like the themes employed in Country. Pop music was for giggling young girls & goofy young boys. Outsiders like Buck, Merle, Waylon et al, came around the side door & built marketshare themselves- as Waylon was quoted, their own way.  These here "New Outlaws" are just trying to tap into new demographics- like those of us here who value authenticity via Roots/Americana & this wonderful online magazine, No Depression! Cain't really fault 'em, we still buy CDs!

 

Didn't something like the "Twang Removal effect" happen in the early '60s when Nashville deemphasized the Hillbilly element, taking out the whining fiddles & Steels (Pedal or otherwise) that had been an integral part of Country up 'til then? I also lament the demise of HonkyTonk that occurred sometime back then, when Hank Thompson & Webb Pierce were downplayed because of the negative connotations associated with songs about drinkin' & carryin' on.

 

Moving to today, I recall seeing Carrie Underwood (I think) briefly on an awards show where she came out & did a song that sounded like Southern Rock from the '70s meets dance music. Not bad if that's what floats yer boat, but NOT COUNTRY in my book. It sure didn't twang my buds. If I want Dance music, I'll listen to some really good Techno from old-days Detroit or Europe or LCD Soundsystem. If I want Country, I'll listen to Kitty Wells or Loretta Lynn- NOT Carrie Underwood.  Or Fred Eaglesmith. Or Shooter or HankIII. Or my own stuff. Or you guys' stuff.

 

Country music today is about making $$$ & directing those who aren't very discerning about music in the direction of Country music. Modern Country is Pop music for adults.  There also seems to be an undercurrent of intolerance, close-mindedness & dare I say, fear about it these days.

 

Long live Dwight Yoakam! Long live Merle Haggard, voice of the Working Class of America! Long live Kitty Wells, voice of America's Unheard Women!

Comment by BRUCE RAWSON on September 20, 2011 at 8:47am

What about Houston Marchmans ..Viet Nashville??

Comment by Amos Perrine on September 20, 2011 at 12:20pm
The outlaw thing got lame real fast the first time around because then as now it became a marketing ploy. The huge difference was that then the folks who were labeled as "outlaws" actually had real talent and were steeped in country. Today, it's faux music by wannabes and posers fabricated by cynics who are only in it for the money. As American Idol-ness has lowered the public's music IQ, they eat it up, posing themselves and like binging on junk food are never really satisfied.
Comment by Keith Amos on September 21, 2011 at 4:33pm
I think Shooter just said it all...'nuff said

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.