Author Archives: Joseph Brant

CLASSIC: 2013 — the year the CMA became a helicopter parent

Nearly a week has passed and I’m trying to parse out the implications of “country’s biggest night.”  As I mentioned last year, the CMAs had traditionally been that organization that was the Oscars of country, that annointed the stars with awards that truly were prestigious because they were voted upon by the members of the industry.  A conservative voice, it has always struggled to balance defining the industry’s ambassadors to the greater entertainment industry versus bandwagon-ing the hot thing of the day — sometimes with the same award.

You look at the undeniable “crossover” superstars at the time of their Entertainer of the Year wins: Barbara Mandrell in 1980 and 1980 (during the height of Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters TV show), Shania in 1999, Taylor Swift in 2009 and 2011.  Each was dubiously a “country music” star but certainly an ambassador the community could promote as its own.

So just like that parent that can’t always be around to take care of things, but swoops in to take care of the necessary things, the CMA acknowledged the across-the-board success of Florida-Georgia Line and spread the love with all those “Highway Don’t Care” awards, they managed too to pull back the reigns and honor — because that’s the word — George Strait with Entertainer of the Year.

It was right around the moment Eric Church turned the classy (albeit “new country”) music show into a 1980s heavy metal concert that I started to think, “I really want George Strait to win Entertainer.”  I’ll admit I have conservative tastes when it comes to country music but that performance, plus all that “Cruise” love was adding up to too much.  Check this and tell me what country music sounds like:

It really is the single most memorable moment from the evening for me, the way this unrelenting rock song just showed up and encapsulated the angst of every traditional country music fan.

The show was a huge success.  Most notable was the number of tweets for the evening: 1.6 million.  This is the last genre to experience any significant erosion of CD sales, back when everyone was downloading without paying.  Just a few years ago, it was one of the very few genres that saw any significant online presence.  The growth is spectacular and, as much as I hate to admit it, we have cross-pollinators like Eric Church to thank for it (if, in fact, we are thankful).  Notice the way the traditionalist country fans find their way into the conversation in live-tweets like this one from  Entertainment Weekly.

Back to the awards: along with the George Strait win, the CMA didn’t just let Kacey Musgraves’ six nominations be its own reward.  That New Artist win was deserving and it sent a message — to whom, I’m not sure (radio, maybe?) — that the voters were looking to acknowledge quality and possibly even attempt to influence the future of the genre.

I think Miranda Lambert’s fourth consecutive Female Vocalist win was more about matching Reba’s record than genuinely honoring her work this year.  The gossip around the Internet in the lead-up to this show was a rather consensus vote that Carrie Underwood deserved it, especially given her snub in the Entertainer of the Year category, where she was undoubtedly a contender.

Yet it was an enormously entertaining show.  The sound worked, the duelling stages — including the one in the audience — worked.  It was a show worth watching, love it or hate the winners.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on November 12, 2013)

CLASSIC: Gord Bamford “When Your Lips are So Close”

It doesn’t sound like a Gord Bamford song.  He co-wrote it with his producer Byron Hill and Nashville songwriter Brent Baxter, who recounts his behind-the-scenes journey to Gord and this recording brilliantly on his blog Man vs Row.

Gord Bamford sings country music, unquestionably.  His singles really just vary between honky-tonk uptempos (“Stayed ‘Til Two,” “Drinkin’ Buddy”) and slow heartfelt ballads (“Little Guy,” “My Daughter’s Father”).  And I’m sure the rest of the songs on the new album will hew closer to this path.  It’s available tomorrow, incidentally.

“When Your Lips…” works.  It’s left of centre, just enough to excite the fans and intrigue those who might not otherwise be interested; the perfect single to open an album.

Also: the lyrics in the hook makes sense if you substitute “your lips” for just “you,” though you still have to strain a bit.  He’s trying for a play on words, but they don’t quite fit.  The song is definitely about longing, and where it veers I think is regarding the frustration of wanting someone who’s right. over. there. but you still gotta get to know ’em.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on October 7, 2013)

CLASSIC: Mary Chapin Carpenter “House of Cards”

It’s poetry.

“When you dreamed it was of the wind
Blowing cold and hard
In those dreams you thought you lived
In a house of cards”

The first two verses are about the past. “I grew up in a house like this … I grew up in a town like this.” After the third verse it all changes.

“When we dream it’s of the wind
Blowing cold and hard
When we wake up we still live
In a house of cards”

Things are bad and even though we wish for better, it’s still as bad as it was when we were kids. The wind will always blow. Only now it’s our house and, much as we want to, we can’t seem to change it.

I was working at CKON, a radio station on the Akwesasne reserve when this song was new, and I was drawn in by the amped up guitar and drums which at the time were still an experiment on country radio.

This song turned out to be the start of the end for Mary Chapin Carpenter’s mainstream country career, ironically. The third single from the Stones In the Road album, it stalled at #21 on Billboard. It popped up on the iPod yesterday and, for the first time in years, I gave it a listen. Then another, and another, and I wondered how many other truly exceptional songs get lost in the shuffle, and never gain the exposure they deserve.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on September 22, 2013)

CLASSIC: Patty Loveless “Lonely Too Long”

It’s the first crisp, chilly morning of the season, and I’m driving alone down the highway with my iPod on shuffle.  The combination can present some powerful memories.

Living with a married couple in Nashville, I was just one year out of high school, and they were about to separate.  We lived in Bellevue, a community on the westernmost edge of town, in a big fancy expensive two-bedroom apartment just off the second-to-last exit of Davidson County on I-40.  The university Charlotte and I attended was near downtown, so it made for a lengthy drive each morning, and I can remember all the new music so vividly: Deana Carter’s Strawberry Wine, Leann Rimes’ One Way Ticket, Tim McGraw’s She Never Lets It Go to Her Heart, Vince Gill’sWorlds Apart.  They were all over the radio then.

Charlotte and I were instant friends when we met a year earlier.  All of 25 years old, she’d fallen for a boy with a pretentious name at our college who I didn’t find particularly attractive or interesting, and spent every moment with him, avoiding her husband John while he worked two full-time jobs to support the two of them.

In November we sat at a Waffle House not a mile from that new apartment complex that we’d moved into only a few months before.  Along with a mutual friend, Mary Beth, she told us of her plan to leave him.  Her reason, whatever it was, obviously didn’t ring true but, nonetheless, I figured because I was her friend and because I didn’t really know John that well it made sense that I leave too.  She scolded me, telling me I was being selfish by abandoning him, that he needed someone around.   Dumbfounded, I went home for the holiday a few weeks later and, when I returned, the lock on the front door to the big fancy expensive two-bedroom apartment had been changed.

I didn’t really get to know John until she moved out.  He told me he changed the locks because she’d left, and he was concerned she might take everything while he was at work, that my abandonment was unintended.  We sat on opposite sides of the bar in the kitchen, him facing the appliances and me looking out into the living room, and he told me he knew why she left.  Blunt but never cruel, he said he’d met with a counselor who told him I was the problem.

Wide-eyed, I stayed silent and let him continue.  He was working two jobs and was never around or available.  He knew all about Jefferson and resented him, and hated her for choosing him. “But I wonna winna’ back,” he said in his thick Australian accent.  It was admirable.

“I need to letta’ know this is owwa’ home.  So you can’t stay.”

We had a winding, great conversation about marriage, America, Australia, post-secondary education, country music.  He was obliging.  In my head I was so much younger than them, callow and self-interested so I took my time finding a new place, with unattached roommates this time on the opposite end of town.  It was a cheap, small, ground-floor two-bedroom apartment with a shared bath that we kept reliably filthy.  Dare I admit the weather was warming and spring on its way by the time I moved in.

So even though it’s one of thousands on my iPod and though I may skip over it every other time of year, today I repeated the song over and over on my way to Belleville on Hwy 401 this morning.  Somewhere in my mind I was 19 years old again, driving east on Harding Pike past Belle Meade, between Bellevue and Belmont University, inevitably late for class.

I can see exhaust from the cars before and around me evaporating into the chill of the fall and winter morning air.  John said he hated it because Charlotte sang it all the time, like she was trying to tell him something with it.  He said he understood now and I genuinely wished him well, but I was naive.  And he was too, so it turned out.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on September 17, 2013)

CLASSIC: 2013 CCMA Awards — Who should win

The Canadian Country Music Association Awards show is coming up tonight.  Here are the nominees and my considerations regarding who may (or should) win.

 

FANS’ CHOICE AWARD
Gord Bamford
Dean Brody
George Canyon
Terri Clark
Johnny Reid

 

Prediction: Johnny Reid

This would be his fifth consecutive win.  He performed in Kingston recently and the crowd was wild for him.  Very little can be called “country” about that set, what with the saxophone solos and poppy production, but it was a heck of a show.  I dare call this a slam dunk.

 

SINGLE OF THE YEAR
It’s Friday -Dean Brody feat. Great Big Sea
Jumped Right In – Dallas Smith
Leaning On A Lonesome Song – Gord Bamford
Main Street, 1979 – Deric Ruttan
Show Some Respect – Bobby Wills

 

Prediction: It’s Friday

The Gord Bamford song won the songwriter award last night, so there’s a good chance it could take this one too.  Voters would be wise to reward Deric Ruttan, though, who’s “Main Street, 1979” should’ve been nominated (and should’ve won) the songwriter award.  “It’s Friday” was just a great song, the kind you like to hear on the radio, a great “single.”

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Classics II – George Canyon
Is It Friday Yet? – Gord Bamford
Jumped Right In – Dallas Smith
Roll – Emerson Drive
Small Town Pistols – Small Town Pistols

 

Prediction: Is It Friday Yet?

I’m going on pure instinct here.  Gord Bamford is reliably country and the voters should recognize that here.  Besides the album is chock full of hit songs.  Going down the list of remaining nominees: I can’t fathom an album of covers, with nary a Canadian song on it, winning this award.  Dallas Smith might (should?) be considered just a little too Default for country music voters, despite his string of hits from this CD.  Emerson Drive has a chance here; why, by the way, wasn’t “Let It Roll” (the Doc Walker duet that debuted on last year’s CCMAs) not nominated for anything?  It’s a love letter to the industry.  And while I love Small Town Pistols, aside from the Group/Duo category this is their only nomination.

 

CMT VIDEO OF THE YEAR
A Little More Work – Kira Isabella
Hope & Gasolinee – Beverley Mahood
I’m Movin’ On – Terri Clark feat. Dean Brody
Leaning On A Lonesome Song –Gord Bamford
Maybe You Remember Me Now – Hey Romeo

 

Prediction: Maybe You Remember Me Now

I haven’t seen a music video in years.  When I’m out of town I’ll turn on CMT for the noise if I can’t find a local radio station.  The director of “Maybe You Remember Me Now,” Stephano Barberis, won the video director award yesterday from the CCMA, so I’ll defer to that decision here.  A cursory glance at some of the nominees was pleasant enough.  The “Hope & Gasoline” video seemed particularly artful.

 

FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Terri Clark
Jaida Dreyer
Kira Isabella
Carolyn Dawn Johnson
Michelle Wright

 

Prediction: Kira Isabella

She has the weight of the entire Sony Music Entertainment Canada organization supporting her.  No one else has that voting block.  Oh, and she’s had a really big year.  Leaping from Rising Star last year to this might be a stretch, but I live in a world where an organization like the CCMA should be annointing performers in categories like this one once they’ve reached a pinnacle.

 

MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Gord Bamford
Dean Brody
Chad Brownlee
Dallas Smith
Bobby Wills

 

Prediction: Gord Bamford

Again, he’s reliable and I mean that in a good way.  Dean Brody is a really huge star, too, and I think he’ll clean up next year (with a new album due later this Fall).  I wouldn’t argue with a Bobby Wills win, though — as with Kira Isabella above — it seems a little soon.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if Dallas Smith took this award because the singles he’s released, even if they are a step too far left of “country,” have all caught fire at radio.

 

GROUP OR DUO OF THE YEAR
Emerson Drive
Hey Romeo
High Valley
Small Town Pistols
The Stellas

 

Prediction: High Valley

Hey Romeo has won this award the previous two years and yet, in my opinion, they still struggle when it comes to name recognition (and I loved “Maybe You Remember Me Now).  I just started paying attention to them after the win last year.  Emerson Drive always stand a good chance here, though their last win was in 2003.  High Valley took the Interactive Artist award yesterday from the CCMA and that alone is a good indicator.

 

RISING STAR
Autumn Hill
Tim Hicks
MacKenzie Porter
Tebey
Bobby Wills

 

Prediction: Tim Hicks

“Get By” was a super massively huge song this year.  He co-wrote it with both members of Florida Georgia Line plus THREE other people, so I’ll imagine it’s a mostly Nashville-written song and ironically not Canadian enough, therefore ineligible for any awards here.  If he performs it on the show, fans will be like “Uh, why aren’t we seeing more of HIM tonight?”  The song was that big.  Having said that, I love Autumn Hill and Bobby Wills had a great year too.  Tebey had a huge hit with “Somewhere in the Country” and MacKenzie Porter’s “I Wish I’d Known” is just gorgeous.   This is a really strong, competitive category, and it speaks well for the future of country music in Canada.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on September 8, 2013)

CLASSIC: Joan Kennedy

There are very few online resources for Canadian country music that aren’t exclusively fan-oriented and/or associated with the here-today-gone-tomorrow machinations of the national industry.  Those who had national careers are left to their own devices when the major labels are finished with them.  (To wit: you know Julian Austin still records and performs, right?)

How would someone like Julian Austin be classified now?  Just “independent,” I suppose.  Your average Canadian country music fan doesn’t care about indy versus major label (… uh) labeling, though.  His last album was released in 2009 so you can’t really say he’s a “classic” artist, either.  There’s a continuity missing here that I find intriguing.

The national country music industry is dependent on radio to reach its sales objectives — and CMT to a degree, I suppose — and, because radio is such a passive medium, the opportunity for fans to just uncritically drink whatever the local station is offering is too great.  If we were made to be fans of a Julian Austin in 1998 and we haven’t heard any new music in the past while (coincidentally since he left the major label), then the fans are left to assume he must not want to record anymore — because why would radio not play the new stuff?!

I was listening to Michael Stelzner’s interview with Seth Godin yesterday and he mentioned, among other things, the (now recurring) idea that technologies — our collective step away from the century-long industrial revolution into collaborative and connection-based work — are enabling individuals to emerge from the passive masses.  This blog, for example, exists for two reasons: I want to start a conversation about the industry from a consumer/end-user perspective, and; it costs very little for me to do it.

As I write this, I’m packing my house up to move.  On the lowest shelf of a wall of CDs I found Joan Kennedy’s A Dozen Red Roses album from 1996.  It’s rightfully not labeled a greatest hits collection, though the biggest songs render it unmistakably a collection of some sort: “Candle In the Window,” “Talk to My Heart,” “Family Pride,” each of them from one of the five albums she’s released.

The liner notes read: “A Dozen Red Roses features nine of her most popuar, most requested hits — and some surprises!” and, though there are included some quippy quotes regarding each title, there isn’t any great delineation between the singles and the new recordings.

As an aficionado of the music, I’m continually in search of those historical snapshots these old singles can conjure.  A song like “Don’t Look in My Eyes” just sounds like Canadian country in the mid-1980’s.  If I close my eyes, I can hear a song like that one flowing from the radio in the kitchen down the hall through my door and into my bedroom in those early mornings as I awoke when I was a boy.  It’s sometimes a psychological mindgame I’m playing, but I love reconnecting with a long-forgotten song that was (for however long) ubiquitous locally.

“Just Can’t Let Go” is still, twenty-three years later, a gorgeous song.  I  was 13 when it was new, when the Kingston radio station played it faithfully.  I can still hear one of the DJs saying “I think this one’s gonna go all the way, even in the States!”  Of course it didn’t and I may be one of a handful who remember the song today but it’s always been a favourite, one of those that I don’t play all that often because I want my association with it to remain connected to that time and place.

Problem for you: it’s not available anywhere.  Nobody has uploaded the song to YouTube, that repository of all things audio/video.  Amazon has three used copies of the CD Candle In the Window (though there’s no photo on the page, and a tracklisting that’s easy to miss).  Don’t waste your time even checking iTunes.

Yet I think we’re on the cusp of something big in this regard.  Just the fact that I’m here now writing about it proves the interest exists.  That there are a handful of Joan Kennedy clips availalbe on YouTube already (see below) supports it.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m getting older, and seeing that the technology exists, that makes the preservation of these older recordings so important and necessary.  But I hope that’s not it.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on August 29, 2013)

CLASSIC: Why 401(k) pop stars rule the world

New York magazine published an article way back in early June that has been sitting open-faced, reverse-folded on the couch (in the other room, the one I rarely sit on) for about a month now, since I read it.  The writer is essentially trying to figure out how the tables have turned as it regards fandom of movie stars versus music stars.

The success of the 2013 crop of pop stars is inextricably linked—creatively and commercially—with their ability to communicate directly to and with audiences on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like.

At the same time, there are fewer movie stars capable of selling tickets just by the power of their own brand.  A few conclusions are thrown around, including in the comments of the online article, but I think it really comes down to the lightning speed of the newscycle today.

While the record labels haven’t yet given up on releasing full albums and riding the (now non-existent) wave of publicity it perpetuates for a year or more, managers and stars themselves have realized that maintaining a presence online to the fans incrementally contributes to the payday out on the road.

Because the tour is where the money is now.  The labels used to run the entire show, especially in country music, and they cashed in handsomely.  Before the Internet liberated the individual songs from the albums that housed them, labels raked in the profits from CD sales (at $15 each) when we clearly only wanted one or two songs (at $0.99 if even that).  Add to it faster moving radio charts back then which meant more “hits” that paid more songwriters and publishers.

Anyone remember hearing a song by Reba called “One Honest Heart” on the radio?  It was from the If You See Him album.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s the charts moved so fast that you could release four singles in a year.  Elementary math: that’s only three months of exposure per song.  Again, it didn’t matter which song you liked, or for how long you heard it on the radio, if you bought the entire CD for even one of them.  In a one-way conversation, everyone appears happy.

As recently as 2010, pop fans could choose from only Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga for big summer pop spectaculars, while smaller acts grouped into touring caravans to protect against box-office disappointment.

It’s taken nearly 15 years — from the moment music file sharing exploded, around 2000, to now — for artists and their managers to embrace the technology that the industry for so long claimed only existed to encourage its demise.

I love CDs.  And records; remember those ones with the big fold-out flaps?  I love the packaging, and the sequencing of the songs on an album (especially true albums like Red Headed Stranger, and even Garth’s Chris Gaines CD).  But those days seem to be slipping away.  Perhaps someday we’ll look back on full albums in disbelief.  It’s a 401(k) world, as Thomas Friedman wrote, where the business models of the past, the ones that survived and even thrived with little to no measurement systems, have become obsolete before the movers and shakers even see it happening.

For the rest of us, though, these can be interesting, exciting times.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on August 16, 2013)

CLASSIC: Florida Georgia Line’s Billboard record is not meaningless

I think sometimes as enthusiasts of the music we get confused regarding the purpose of Billboard.  These charts exist to promote the music industry of today, from whatever point in history “today” is.  They’re not concerned with historical relevance or consistency, or even the quality of the songs.

There is a fascinating post over at Saving Country Music that suggests the milestone 22 week #1 reign of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” is actually NOT significant because other crossover hits from the previous few years would’ve matched or beat that 22 week mark, had the methodology at Billboard changed earlier.

I absolutely loved reading the article, and appreciate the work that went into researching it, but it seems the writer is more bothered that the chart record was broken by Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” specifically than anything else.  Yes the chart history would look a lot different if today’s new methodology were in place five or six years ago, but it wasn’t.

It would be nice to have had today’s methodology available back in the 1950s and 60s, too, but we can’t rebuild that history now.

Also: the chart is intended to reflect the success of country songs, period.  If the crossover ones are more popular — which, by definition, they would be — we should be grateful that they’re now reflecting what we already know.  We can’t live in a fantasy world where the country chart says (insert traditional single here) is #1 for how-many weeks when our non-country friends are running up to us, talking about how they love that country song “Cruise” so much.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not writing now to defend or represent the quality of “Cruise.”

People who hate country music know “Save a Horse (Ride A Cowboy).”  They think it’s this huge country hit.  Country music fans heard it on the radio for a couple weeks until it stalled at #11 back in 2004 — yet it sold 2 million copies.  It got bigger after it’s chart run.  Under the new methodology it would’ve re-entered the chart and gone who knows how high.  I’ve never liked the song, but putting my head in the sand didn’t make it not popular.  And today, as much as I ignore Luke Bryan et.al., the music is still popular and still identified as country.

The charts of the past should in fact be revised to more accurately reflect the massive success of the songs listed in the article, not to mention “Breathe,” “You’re Still the One,” “Amazed” and “Achy Breaky Heart,” just to name a few examples.  Again, none of these are among the genre’s best songs, but they were (a) identified as country, (b) enormously popular, and (c) far more successful than either the Hot 100 or Hot Country Songs charts ever gave them credit.

But just like with “Before He Cheats” and “If I Die Young,” Billboard isn’t in business to revise history now.  It’s here to identify popular music today, to the best of its technical ability.

The real struggle, of course is this: how can the new methodology be used to benefit a fan of traditional country music?  Think of all the remixed or fan versions of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” that contributed to that song’s chart success, via YouTube plays.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the future — thanks to continuing advances in technology and the increasing distance between traditional and “new” country fans —  that the superbly crafted traditional sounds we love were remixed for the crossover market and … voila: we’re all happy with the version we’ve found, and the charts reflect that with a single hit song title.

It’s a bit sacrilegious, I know, but if we care about the popularity of the traditional sound, it may be the best chance we have.  I’ve found Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy appropriately inspirational.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on August 7, 2013)

CLASSIC: A musical companion to Michael Streissguth’s “Outlaw”

In a perfect world Michael Streissguth’s brilliant new book would come with a CD.  It would be filled with notable songs he references in Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville, his industry-oriented story that covers roughly the late 1960s through the late 70s.

I tend to read non-fiction with the iPad or a laptop nearby so I can cross-reference unique pieces of information, and I’m always on the lookout for rare and notable recordings or lesser-known hits so it shouldn’t be a surprise that not two chapters into this book I was spending more time on YouTube than reading.  I wanted Outlaw to continue far beyond the 250-ish pages that it did.

Outlaw

Born in the late 70s, I didn’t comprehend that distinct eras even existed in country music until Garth exploded in the early 90s.  Just prior to that, at the time when I was discovering country music, New Traditionalists like Ricky Skaggs were all the rage.  Popular country had long since abandoned the outlaws for an Urban Cowboy style (influence by the film), then turned toward country-pop (Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell) before embracing the traditional music of Randy Travis, Reba and George Strait.

My parents owned the Waylon & Willie LP and, while I don’t recall a copy of Wanted! The Outlaws in our home, I vividly remember “Good Hearted Woman,” the live duet version from that album playing in the house.  It’s one of those songs your parents take on as their own anthem, unwittingly emblazoning it in your own memory at the same time.

These songs and the history accompanying them really grabbed me.  If you get the chance, read this book.  Some highlights:

“I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye” – Willie Nelson (page 39).  Before he became an outlaw, Willie wrote classics like “Hello Walls” and “Crazy,” but he hadn’t experienced any success as a recording artist.  Under the stewardship of the legendary Chet Atkins, RCA tried to fit him into a popular mold (hence the eventual outlaw status), an example of which is this self-written song from 1965.  It was his second single for RCA and spent two weeks on the country chart where it peaked at #48.

Streissguth suggests it was a misstep, perhaps an indication that Willie and his label were not at all in sync, in that it didn’t connect with the Nashville Sound that was so popular at the time, which RCA likely would’ve prefered, and that murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl” and “Cocaine Blues” weren’t fodder for hit singles.  Just two years later, though, Porter Wagoner hit #2 with “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.”

“Epitaph (Black and Blue)” – Kris Kristofferson (pages 57 and 88).  A music row secretary named Bobby McKee was indirectly the inspiration for “Me and Bobby McGee.”  In conversation, Kristofferson misheard the name so when he was tasked with writing a song in the vein of Kerouac’s On the Road, he wrote this classic.  Upon learning of Janis Joplin’s death, “Epitaph” was born.  

 

“MacArthur Park” – Waylon Jennings and The Kimberlys (page 68).  Waylon won two Grammys in his career, both were for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.  One came in 1979 with Willie for “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” but his first was for this song, from 1970.  In fact, it was his first major award of any kind.  It is at the same time the most un-Waylon song you’ll ever hear and a surprisingly pretty one, too.

According to Streissguth, “nothing recorded before or after in Waylon’s discography sounded like this album,” an LP of duets with the Kimberlys.  In 2009 it was reissued overseas but, before that, this version of “MacArthur Park,” despite the Grammy win and multiple greatest hits collections, was nearly impossible to find.

There’s an interesting story on pages 99-100 about the number of copies the record labels pressed versus consumer demand and the number they reported selling.  Obviously they didn’t want to press any more copies than necessary, yet they couldn’t meet the demand when a song broke out of the pack and became a hit.  So it appears they reported that these newfound hit singles were selling as many as they maybe would’ve or should’ve sold.  Of course, that led to even less evidentiary reporting.  And regarding chart manipulation, RCA’s head of promotion at the time, Elroy Kahanek, is quoted saying:

So I called Billboard magazine and I said, ‘Hey, do me a favor. Keep so-and-so at number two. Go ahead and take so-and-so to number one.’ They did. It wasn’t two months later another artist called me and said, ‘Elroy, please …’ I did the same thing for them. They were friends. Back then, it wasn’t so cutthroat; you helped other artists even if they were on another label.

“We Had It All” – Waylon Jennings (page 144).  Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes from 1973 is credited as the very first “outlaw” album.  Perhaps so new and innovative, it wasn’t terribly well received at the time.  Or it may have been that RCA didn’t understand it, so nobody knew about it.  The label brass didn’t see a single among the tracks he submitted, so Waylon added this song (the only one on the LP not written by Billy Joe Shaver) to appease them.  RCA released it as the lead-off single, and it only went to #28.  The follow-up, “You Asked Me To” went Top Ten.

“We Had It All” was subsequently recorded by many artists, notably Dolly Parton for her album of covers, The Great Pretender.  The song was remixed, slapped on a new greatest hits album, and released as her final single for RCA in 1986.  It stalled at #31.

The legendary Hazel Smith coined the term “outlaw” for Willie, Waylon, et.al. (page 153).  She points out in this book that the definition she found as she researched the perfect word to describe them — “living on the outside of the written law” — seemed to fit because they were playing music that wasn’t part of the Nashville machine.  Journalists pounced on it, and when the record label adopted the moniker with 1975’s Wanted! The Outlaws LP featuring Willie, Waylon, Tompall Glaser and Jessie Coulter, it became country music’s first million seller.

(It is noted elsewhere in this book that Johnny Cash was the very first “outlaw” in that, years before Waylon and Willie, he was choosing his own music, making his own musical arrangements, and recording with his own band — three of the criteria that, allusions to actual law-breaking aside, truly defined the outlaws as outlaws of country music.)

Speaking of actual law-breakers, David Allan Coe (page 155) appears to have been a master storyteller, capitalizing on the term and intentionally blurring the lines that defined the word “outlaw” as it was used in country music.  Other than his lone monster smash hit, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” I didn’t really know anything about him before now.

There were really two types of country music in Nashville during the late 60’s.  The Nashville machine (my term) was led by producer/label heads like Chet Atkins who it appears molded each artist to fit into what was called the Nashville Sound, a style of country music that embraced strings and layered vocals that attracted the masses beyond the base country audience.  The other country music was linked to an area just off music row near West End Avenue and the famed Exit/In.  Check out Altman’s classic 1975 film Nashville for a peak at the Exit/In at its hippest … well, peak.  The mix of rock, folk and country at the club, in contrast to honky tonks on Broadway like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, provided access for someone as unique as David Allan Coe to thrive.

 

“Till I Gain Control Again” – Emmylou Harris (page 178).  An anomaly to this entire outlaw narrative is Emmylou who seemed from the beginning of her professional career to enjoy artistic autonomy.  It turns out she was signed to Warner Bros. not in Nashville but Los Angeles.  The financial support provided by the label promoted her music outside the Nashville machine and covered the famed Hot Band to travel and perform with her.  Rodney Crowell, a member of the Hot Band, wrote this song, originally the B-side track from the “One of These Days” single (and later a #1 for Crystal Gayle in 1983).

“Red Headed Stranger” – Willie Nelson (pages 179-184). The album was of course the first outlaw smash, and for that reason it’s sometimes credited for being many firsts: outlaw album, concept album, among them.  Willie himself recorded a superb concept album a few years earlier (Yesterday’s Wine) that wasn’t well received, partly due to the record label’s indifference toward it, and according to Saving Country Music, Mickey Newbury has a greater claim to being the first outlaw of the sort defined in this book.  It seems, then, that the convergence of Hazel Smith’s initial use of the term with both Waylon and Willie’s creative liberation and the embrace of the music press for the potential of an outlaw movement that led to this “red headed” perfect storm.

(link from YouTube was deleted)

As I finished reading Outlaw I coincidentally found a 3-album mini-boxset that included Yesterday’s Wine, Red Headed Stranger, and Stardust.  The album is a brilliant, cohesive collection of instrumentally spare, acoustic story songs.  At a time when the landscape of popular country music elevated C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” and Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” to become the biggest songs of the year, Red Headed Stranger was both a hard sell and a breath of fresh air.  Willie’s industry supporters had to rally around the album just to get Columbia Records to release it.

Concept albums should be made more often.  You’d think the labels would’ve forced them on the artists back in the early 2000’s when individual song downloads exploded and they started losing sales of full albums.  This LP only spawned two singles: “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain” was huge, of course, and the jazzy “Remember Me” rose to #2.

 

“Good Hearted Woman” – Waylon & Willie (pages 190 and 160).  The song was written after Waylon became addicted to a pinball machine at a restaurant called Burger Boy, spending entire nights away from home to play the game; that is, after he became addicted to amphetamines.

(link from YouTube has been deleted)

The album Wanted! The Outlaws arrived in time for the outlaw movement to take its formal victory lap.  Willie, Waylon and Jessie Coulter, Tompall Glaser, and a few others had been traveling America under something of an “Outlaws” tour, with a growing fanbase and then hit records in tow.  Willie recorded Red Headed Stranger for Columbia, Jessie had “I’m Not Lisa” on Capitol, but Waylon didn’t have a big selling album yet.  RCA, looking for that hit, compiled catalog recordings from Willie and Jessie’s RCA tenure a few years earlier, added new tracks from Waylon, including the live duet with Willie, and to appease Waylon it leased a couple of his friend Tompall’s recordings from MGM Records.

Notably, Jennings and Coulter’s cover of “Suspicious Minds” from this album (a #2 hit in 1976) is the exact same version that only reached #25 six years earlier.  “Yesterday’s Wine” and “Me and Paul” were lifted directly from the Willie’s Yesterday’s Wine album.

 

“Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand” – Waylon Jennings (page 237).  Drug charges in the fall of 1977 only made Waylon a bigger star.  Fans viewed it, as well with arrests made on his band members earlier in the 70s, as evidence of the more literal outlaw status the record label was capitalizing on.  The pendulum was starting to swing back, though, and both Waylon and Willie knew it.

 

Willie’s decidedly un-outlaw Stardust LP was a big hit in 1978 and by the end of the year the labels were looking for a significant return on investment with every release.  Urban Cowboy was around the corner and, though Waylon would maintain a string of hits through the 1980’s, he was never again such an emblematic icon.

 

It would appear Willie has maintained his superstar status all these subsequent years because he’s chosen to stay on the cutting edge; he hasn’t had a solo hit since 1989’s “Nothing I Can Do About It Now,” yet there is always new material, a tour, and innovative opportunities like the Daniel Lanois produced Teatro album from 1998 (which includes a new recording of “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye”) and his most recent #1, “Beer For My Horses,” the Toby Keith duet from 2002.

Streissguth’s Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville has provided a massive education to me.  I’d long ago known the term “outlaws” as it pertained to country music in the 1970s but didn’t, it seems, have the opportunity to investigate the phenomenon until now.  It is the perfect introduction to the history and discography of these artists, as well as a fascinating glimpse into the country music industry of the 1970s.

Again, a book like this should come with its own CD — though I suppose with YouTube at everyone’s disposal nowadays we all have the opportunity to build our own soundtrack, and our own unique reading experience, exactly the way we choose.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on July 19, 2013)

CLASSIC: 2013 CCMA Awards nominees

They were announced yesterday and, for some reason, a list of nominees is actually quite difficult to find online.  But before I completely bury the lede:

Paul Ferguson from my local station, Belleville’s Cool 100, is nominated for Music Director of the Year (Secondary Market) and I think that’s rather … well, cool.  As a listener I can entirely endorse the nomination.

If the intention of awarding music directors is to acknowledge those who are advancing the work of the industry, then Paul and Cool 100 are entirely deserving.  The playlist is sooo tight and tied to the radio charts that it’s impossible to presume a hit song in Canadian country music can exist without hearing it in Belleville.  In the past year, Paul himself has interviewed live in-studio some of the biggest names in Canadian country music.  I think that’s kind of a big deal.

Now having said that (as I lean in a little closer to my keyboard and screen), my local country radio station could be a little more musically adventurous every now and then.  There’s nothing wrong with sneaking in something a little left — or right — of centre, just to shake things up a little.

The winners of the following awards will be announced on a CBC-TV broadcast September 8.  The 2013 televised CCMA Awards nominees are …

Fans’ Choice Award
Gord Bamford
Dean Brody
George Canyon
Terri Clark
Johnny Reid

Single of the Year
It’s Friday — Dean Brody feat. Great Big Sea
Jumped Right In — Dallas Smith
Leaning On a Lonesome Song — Gord Bamford
Main Street, 1979 — Deric Ruttan
Show Some Respect — Bobby Wills

Album of the Year
Classics II — George Canyon
Is It Friday Yet? — Gord Bamford
Jumped Right In — Dallas Smith
Roll — Emerson Drive
Small Town Pistols — Small Town Pistols

Songwriter(s) of the Year
Caeland Garner/Johhny Reid — “Baby I Know It” (performed by Johnny Reid feat. Carolyn Dawn Johnson
Dean Brody — “Bob Marley” (performed by Dean Brody)
Jason Blaine/Deric Ruttan — “Cool” (performed by Jason Blaine)
Dean Brody — “It’s Friday” (performed by Dean Brody feat. Great Big Sea)
Gord Bamford/Buddy Owens/Ray Stephenson — “Leaning On a Lonesome Song” (performed by Gord Bamford)

CMT Video of the Year
A Little More Work — Kira Isabella
Hope & Gasoline — Beverley Mahood
I’m Movin’ On — Terri Clark feat. Dean Brody
Leaning On a Lonesome Song — Gord Bamford
Maybe You Remember Me Now — Hey Romeo

Female Artist of the Year
Terri Clark
Jaida Dreyer
Kira Isabella
Carolyn Dawn Johnson
Michelle Wright

Male Artist of the Year
Gord Bamford
Dean Brody
Chad Brownlee
Dallas Smith
Bobby Wills

Group or Duo of the Year
Emerson Drive
Hey Romeo
High Valley
Small Town Pistols
The Stellas

Roots Artist or Group of the Year
Clayton Bellamy
Shane Chisholm
The Heartbroken
Corb Lund
Lindi Ortega

Rising Star
Autumn Hill
Tim Hicks
Mackenzie Porter
Tebey
Bobby WillsInteractive Artist of the Year
Terri Clark
Leah Daniels
High Valley
Codie Prevost
Tenille

There are no nominees for the following categories.  Winners are determined exclusively based on sales.
Top Selling Album of the Year
Top Selling Canadian Album of the Year

 

The All-Star Band Award nominees …

Drums
Matthew Atkins (Jason Blaine/Deric Ruttan)
Ben Bradley (Gord Bamford)
Steve Broadhurst (Doc Walker)
Chad Melchert (Gord Bamford/session)
Brad Tebble (Hey Romeo)

Bass
Shane Chisholm (Shane Chisholm)
Lisa Dodd (Gord Bamford)
Curtis Ebner (Hey Romeo)
Brent Pearen (Doc Walker)
Travis Switzer (Jason Blaine/Deric Ruttan)

Guitar
Jason Barry (Jason Blaine/Dean Brody/Aaron Lines/Michelle Wright)
Ryan Davidson (Gord Bamford)
Darren Gusnowky (Hey Romeo)
Murray Pulver (Doc Walker)
Darren Savard (Deric Ruttan/Dallas Smith)

Keyboards
Mike Little (George Canyon)
Bart McKay (Brad Johner)
Carly McKillip (One More Girl)
Rob Shapiro (Hey Romeo)
Dale Wallace (Emerson Drive)

Fiddle
Denis Dufresne (Sarah Beth Keeley/PEAR/Deric Ruttan)
Lynae Dufresne (PEAR)
Allison Granger (Gord Bamford)
Shane Guse (Jason Blaine/George Canyon/Marshall Dane/The Western Swing Authority)
Mike Sanyshyn (Deric Ruttan/session)

Steel Guitar
John Ellis (Chad Brownlee/Doc Walker/Hayley)
Smokey Fennell (Danny Hooper/Brett Kissel/Krysta Scoggins)
Doug Johnson (Marshall Dane/session)
Ed (Peewee Charles) Ringwald (George Canyon/session/The Western Swing Authority)

Special Instrument
Shane Chisholm — Gastank Bass (Shane Chisholm)
Denis Dufresne — Mandolin (PEAR)
Allison Granger — Mandolin (Gord Bamford)
Shane Guse — Mandolin (Jason Blaine)
Mike Sanyshyn — Mandolin (Deric Ruttan/session)

 

Industry Award nominees …

Management Company of the Year
Invictus Entertainment Group
Johnny Mac Entertainment
MDM Recordings Inc.
O’Reilly International Entertainment Management
RGK Entertainment Group Inc.Booking Agency of the Year
The Agency Group
Big Air Entertainment Ltd.
The Feldman Agency
Invictus Entertainment Group
Paquin Entertainment

Ron Sakamoto Talent Buyer or Promoter of the Year
Kelly Berehulka (Casinos of Winnipeg)
Jim Cressman (Invictus Entertainment Group)
Lindsay Ell/Rod Tate (Calgary Stampede)
Shawn Sakamoto (Gold & Gold Productions)
Rob Waloschuk (Dauphin’s Countryfest)

Country Club of the Year
Cook County Saloon — Edmonton, AB
The Corral — Oshawa, ON
Fandango’s Live Entertainment Saloon — Edmonton, AB
The Ranch — Edmonton, AB
Ranchman’s Cookhouse & Dancehall — Calgary, AB

Album Design of the Year
The Boom Chucka Boys (The Boom Chucka Boys) — Joel Rathjen/S&J Creative/Andrea Sogge
Cigarettes & Truck Stops (Lindi Ortega) — Julie Moe/Andrew Robinson
Classics II (George Canyon) — Kale Canyon/Karen Corbin/Patrick Fraser
If It Was That Easy (Bobby Wills) — Juan Pont Lezica/O’Reilly International
Roll (Emerson Drive) — Kristin Barlowe/Jesse Barrios III/Mitchell Nevins/Lili Pichette
Twist of Fate (Hey Romeo) — Ashely Champagne/Mediavandals/Ryan Taylor

Video Director of the Year
Stephano Barberis (“Bob Marley” – Dean Brody/”Maybe You Remember Me Now” – Hey Romeo/”What Kinda Love” – Dallas Smith)
John Fucile/Lisa Fucile/Deric Ruttan (“My Kind of Freedom” – Deric Ruttan)
Margaret Malandruccolo (“Anything At All” – Autumn Hill/”Run Run Run” – One More Girl/”Testify” – Alan Doyle)
Troy Niemans (“Show Some Respect” – Bobby Wills/”Somebody Will” – Bobby Wills)
Warren P. Sonoda (“Pancho and Lefty” – George Canyon feat. Jim Cuddy)

Music Publishing Company of the Year
Little Red Bungalow/CSS Rights Management
ole
Royalty Music Publishing Inc.

Record Producer(s) of the Year
Gord Bamford/Byron Hill (The Boom Chucka Boys – The Boom Chucka Boys)
Jason Barry/Tebey (The Wait – Tebey)
Jay Buettner/George Canyon (Classics II – George Canyon)
Mitch Merrett (Crash – Chad Brownlee/Listen – Chad Brownlee/Catch Me If You Can – Jess Moskaluke)
Joey Moi (Small Town Pistols – Small Town Pistols/Jumped Right In – Dallas Smith)

Recording Studio of the Year
Armoury Studios — Vancouver, BC
Barrytone Studios — St. Clements, ON
Bart McKay Productions — Saskatoon, SK
MCC Recording Studio — Calgary, AB
Metalworks Studios — Toronto, ON

Record Company of the Year
MDM Recordings Inc.
On Ramp Records
Open Road Recordings Inc.
Sony Music Entertainment (Canada) Inc.
Universal Music Canada

Record Company Person of the Year
Warren Copnick (Sony Music Entertainment (Canada) Inc.)
Brianne Deslippe (Open Road Recordings Inc.)
Ron Harwood (Universal Music Canada)
Ron Kitchener (Open Road Recordings Inc.)
Rob Smith (Royalty Records Inc.)

Retailer of the Year
HMV Canada Inc.
iTunes Canada
Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack
Walmart Canada Corp.

Country Music Program or Special of the Year
Canadian Coast to Coast (CJVR-FM)
Canadian Country Spotlight (syndicated)
Chevrolet Top 20 Countdown (CMT)
CMT Presents Dean Brody Live (CMT)

Country Festival, Fair, or Exhibition of the Year
Big Valley Jamboree — Camrose, AB
Boots and Hearts Music Festival — Bowmanville, ON
Calgary Stampede — Calgary, AB
Dauphin’s Countryfest — Dauphin, MB
Manitoulin Country Fest — Little Current, ON

 

Broadcast Award nominees …

Music Director of the Year — Major Market
Larry Donohue – CFCW — Edmonton, AB
Joel Lamoureux – CKBY-FM — Ottawa, ON
Jason Lee – CJWW — Saskatoon, SK
Mark Patric – CJJR-FM — Vancouer, BC
Scott Phillips – CKRY-FM/CISN-FM — Calgary, AB/Edmonton, AB

Music Director of the Year — Secondary Market
Tim Day – CKGY-FM — Red Deer, AB
Paul Ferguson – CHCQ-FM — Belleville, ON
Cal Gratton – CIXM-FM/CJVR-FM — Whitecourt, AB/Melfort, SK
Jody Seeley – CFXD-FM — High River, AB
Peter Walker – CJKX- FM — Oshawa, ON

There are no nominees in the following categories.  These submission-based awards are juried by a nation-wide panel.
On-Air Personality(s) of the Year (Major Market)
On-Air Personality(s) of the Year (Secondary Market)
Radio Station of the Year (Major Market)
Radio Station of the Year (Secondary Market)

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on July 18, 2013)