Blake Shelton and Ray Price: Bone of Reinvention
So as most of you know by now, Blake Shelton recently proclaimed: “If I am ‘Male Vocalist of the Year’ that must mean that I’m one of those people now that gets to decide if [Country Music] moves forward and if it moves on,” and that, as such, he doesn’t care about “these old farts around Nashville going, “My God, that ain’t country !’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.”
Then the legendary Ray Price responded, “This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme !!!!!!!”
Lots of country fans started blogging on these comments immediately, so I was prepared to just lay out and let the fur fly.
Then Blake – in an attempt to apologize (sort of) – said this:
“The truth is my statement was and STILL is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY the way Mr. Price did along his journey as a mainstream country artist….’For The Good Times” is a perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music. It was new and awesome!!!… Country music is my life and its future AND past is important to me. I’ll put my love and respect and knowledge about it up against anybody out there… ANYBODY…”
Now that’s quite a statement: “I’ll put my love and respect and knowledge about it up against anybody out there… ANYBODY…”
Anybody ? Really…
Ok Blake – I’m your Huckleberry. And you got it wrong.
To start with, “For the Good Times,” released in 1970, was not the introduction of heavy string-oriented orchestration to country music: that honor goes to Price’s recording of Danny Boy, released in 1967. Price continued recording string-based music in the years leading up to FTGT: about six albums worth of it, in fact, which many folks (including you) don’t recall nowadays.
Folks in Nashville were not excited with Ray’s new direction at first. He was going against the grain, abandoning his honky tonk sound to sing what they considered straight pop music. Not just to gain a bigger market share, but because that’s what he wanted to do artistically. And until he hit with FTGT, he paid dearly for it. As Johnny Bush has pointed out “It cost [Ray] money to transfer over. It cost him his career just about.”
You claim that what Ray did is exactly how how your generation of country singers “keep re-inventing country music.” So I guess you’re saying that, like Ray, you take risks, pursue musical avenues that may not pan out, and are willing to put your entire career at on the line for an idea you believe in.
So tell me: what grand, risky musical concept were you pursuing with “Hillbilly Bone” ? Or your cover of “Footloose” ? Or with that batch of mediocre tunes that sit in the middle of your catalog like a lump of cement ? (“The More I Drink,” “Heavy Lifting,” “Austin” – the last one being essentially a re-write of “I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” only not as good…)
What other edgy material do we have to talk about here ? “Goodbye Time’s” pretty good – but that’s a cover – Conway did it first. “Ol’ Red’s” not bad – that’s a cover too – George Jones and Kenny Rogers both did it before you. “Home” is a cover too – Michael Buble did it first.
Tell me again, Blake, about how you’re reinventing country music by singing second rate hot country tunes and covering Kenny Loggins and Michael Buble.
One thing’s for sure – I can’t find a single thing in your discography that approaches “For the Good Times.” Not because you can’t make music at that level, but because you’re just not interested. Your career goal (based on what I hear in your catalog) is not to reinvent country music – it’s to record anything that might cover your mortgage payment.
Let’s look at it this way: you’ve been recording for about 14 years, yes ? In the first 10 years of his career, Ray Price recorded, among others, “Crazy Arms,” “City Lights,” “Heartaches by the Number,” “I’ve Got a New Heartache,” “My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You,” “Curtain in the Window,” “The Same Old Me,” and “One More Time.” Songs played, sung, and danced to by generations of people in bars, honky tonks, and dance halls. The original recordings of these songs are high art: a combination great songwriting, musicianship, and singing. The people who created them wanted them to be popular, but they also wanted them to be good. Which is why they’ve lasted.
If you really want to reinvent country music, you need some musical ideas, not just marketing ones. Also, commitment to craft, regardless of what the market may dictate, and (sometimes) going dead against it. So if think you’re on the same path to artistic greatness as Ray Price, you ain’t. And if country music is your life, as you say, then defy our expectations, and start making quality records people should care about.
Hint: covering your own version of “Hillbilly Bone” ain’t the place to start.