Country Music So Real
You Can Strike A Match
On The Sole Of Its Shoe
In a recent exchange with Roxane Russell Atwood, the above is how I described Tom T. Hall's new recording, "Hero In Harlan." I stand by that description all this time beyond its spontaneous eruption. The exchange grew out of an interesting situation that many of our readers already know about, but may be too complicated to reiterate.
In short, somebody who actually used "jerk" in his email address blasted Marty Martell and his fellow champions of traditional country music as "whiney old farts" who, in his opinion, need to get over the fact that traditional country music is dead and gone. I have considerable practice on that topic, so I wrote a response that Marty sent out to his email list.
The primary point, as we have discussed in this publication more than once, is that, for the first time in music business history as it pertains to country music, radio playlists are manipulated for a specific audience demographic -- granted, that's a big chunk of the general population (young adult women), but the manipulation is for advertiser enhancement, not to attract the largest possible audience. For those new to "the Bridge," as Betty Hofer dubs us, young adult women have not established brand loyalties and are therefore a better advertising investment for new and "Brand B" products. A chain of radio stations who can deliver big portions of that audience in fifteen or twenty major markets with one telephone conversation with the ad agency has a STRONG advantage in today's market.
Meanwhile, songs that may appeal to kids and to older folks don't stand a very good chance of being played, although there have been a few ... VERY few ... exceptions, notably the Brooks And Dunn recording of "Believe." The irony is that such classics as Tom T. Hall's "Sneaky Snake" probably would not make today's major market playlists, although I know it was directly responsible for attracting the attention of ten and twelve-year olds to country music ... ah, some of those same listeners who today are the "mainstream" target radio audience.
Intensifying the irony is the fact that Tom T. Hall has a CURRENT recording, the aforementioned "Hero In Harlan," that would be a smash hit in a radio scenario concerned with the largest possible listenership as in days gone by, back when country music was culture-related and spoke to a wide range of emotional issues.
"Mr. Jerk," in the attack on Marty, deducted that the change in country music had simply come from the "evolvement" of the music; nope, what we are upset about is the manipulation of the music. Tom T.'s "Hero In Harlan" is a classic example of country music "evolving," compared to his first single back in 1968, was it?, "I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew." "Morning Dew" was timely in its commentary on societal ills, "Harper Valley PTA" was timely in its commentary on societal hypocrisy, "I Love" was a TIMELESS proclamation, and the vast catalogue of Tom T. tunes flowing from those beginnings drew on time-honored country music traditions enriched by his personal injection of time and place. Some listeners related more to some songs and others related more to others. "Hero In Harlan" performs a delicate balance of dealing with war without taking a flagrant patriotic stance OR a blatant anti-war stance -- it simply tells a story; listeners can adapt it as substantiation for their patriotism or as substantiation for their anti-war position OR for their delicate feelings of both. And such is the natural evolvement of any music or artform.
The tragedy of manipulation is that the ONLY place I've heard "Hero In Harlan" has been on his MySpace player!!! I've sent emails to people who might know of any traditional airplay and, so far, have had no responses. Those who have heard it concur it's a great recording, but many have not heard it. Yeah, Mr. Jerk, THAT's what folks like Marty and Roxane and I are severely perturbed about. This country deserves country music real enough to strike a match on the sole of its shoe -- a light in the darkness of manipulation.
Recent Hollow Spots
Iva Lee Roberts
The wife of steel guitar legend Kayton Roberts and mother of childhood wonder Louie Roberts, the lady had a lot of music friends and will be missed.
I never met Bobby, but that fact says more about the magnitude of the music community than about his ability; unfortunately, a LOT of really talented musicians never got in front of the print media, even though I tried to stay open to all. I'm sure he will be sorely missed by those who knew him.
Don't ever think "Johnny Paycheck" without thinking "Aubrey Mayhew." So he was controversial at times; if nobody bucked the system, the system would never change.
He played steel guitar for a number of acts, perhaps most notably Marty Robbins, and he wrote "A Wound Time Can't Erase." He was also an active independent producer, including the last seven albums by traditional singer Terry Smith of "Far Side Banks Of Jordan" fame. "I don't know what I'll do," Terry told us on the telephone; "Bill lived with every song at least a day before writing charts or arrangements, setting the exact mood EACH song needed. He simplified my work in the studio; I hope I can find a way to keep that in place."
The height of Dan's country music solo success coincided with my high profile period as "the guy from PERFORMANCE," so I got a number of calls prefaced by "So-And-So said you may be able to help me." One such call involved the caller's need to connect with Dan Seals -- "I lived with him and his family years ago and we've lost contact; I sure would like to get in touch." I gave her the number for Tony Gottlieb's office and, several months later, saw Dan at an event at Capitol. He gave me a somewhat confused stare when I asked if the old friend had connected a while back, so I detailed the phone call I had received. "Well, Bill," he chuckled, "what you've told me could be true of any number of people, and we do hear from most of them from time to time. It has been our practice that if somebody needed a place to live, we'd make space, so it would be hard to guess who that was. But I'm sure Tony did connect us." I think that exchange says as much about the man and his family as the chart statistics, so now it has been added.
Starting with Jim Denny and even Judge Hay, the people who have called the day-by-day shots at the Grand Ole Opry have risked innovation, some more successfully than others. Hal is credited for permitting full drum kits on stage; he also brought a grand piano out to replace the upright Del Wood and others had had to work sideways from, and both innovations had a lot to do with moving into the new Opry House in '74. In something I wrote for somebody during Hal's tenure, I calculated the average accumulative weekly attendance of the Saturday, Friday, and matinee shows -- it was considerable. In contrast, today's fewer shows say a lot about where the Opry COULD be because we know what it has been.
An inherent flaw in the set-up of the Country Music Hall Of Fame induction process is that there are no slots, so to speak, for just LOVING the music and its people and, therefore, doing whatever the hell it takes to enhance the music and its situation. Most of the folks of whom this is true are pretty low profile, known only to insiders or even in certain inside segments. In true character, Willie Nelson gets the recognition from the Willie Nelson & Family Country Store Frank and Jeannie run, but Frank's involvement was far deeper than a store front.
I've crossed paths with her TV producer-husband, Joe, more than with Anita, but she has applied enough TV make-up on hillbilly faces to plug up a volcano!! I won't try to list all the shows she did make-up for, but most entertainers who have done television in Nashville have been calmed by her pleasant demeanor from time to time. My personal best to Joe and the family.
Wow. What a shock. I'm mere hours from learning of Dan's death while visiting The Masters, and it's all surreal, but I'm reminded of a wonderful story: When National Life decided to sell the television station, speculation as to who might buy it involved no small part of humor -- like a group of Kentucky high school girls who deducted that buying WSMV would be a cool way to own Dan Miller. Over his thirty-three years with Nashville's Channel 4 TV, Dan's interviews are classics; I've seen one with Chet on YouTube just this week.
A HUGE New Hollow Spot
In all honesty, I've dreaded this one for a long time, as Loretta has been fighting two life-threatening conditions for a number of years. She has shared stories and observations that we've printed herein from time to time, so, in a sense, as we all do, perhaps, she's written her own tribute, although more in the living of her life than in any collection of words. With sisters Loudilla and Kay, Loretta formed the first Loretta Lynn Fan Club, which became so successful the star would tell her peers "Talk to the Johnson girls about how to do a fan club," which led to the International Fan Club Organization. A challenge: try to calculate the value of THAT effort to country music; what's ten times a trillion?
Details On The
Thanks to Karen Runk, we can announce that the 2009 Gathering in honor of Mickey Newbury will take place in Gainesville, Texas June 17-20. This was the hometown of Roy Stamps, who passed away last November after having coordinated the Gathering since 2003, handling such details as performers and sound. "Roy's sister, Susie, and the whole Stamps family," Karen notes, "are working on this year's Gathering to make it a success."
Anyone needing more information can go to www.mickeynewbury.com and click on the little lamp in the righthand corner or check Mickey's MySpace.
An Unusual Opportunity
Geraldine Green, a poet friend I've met through MySpace, lives in Cumbria, UK and is quite active with lectures and readings on both sides of "the pond," becoming something of a regular at Kerrville. She recently announced an online poetry course under the auspices of the University Of Cumbria commencing September, 2009. There is a weeklong summer school associated with the event, but Nick Pemberton can provide full information via email@example.com.
From the promotional material: This online poetry course is suitable for a) Recent graduates of undergraduate creative writing programmes b) Continuing Education students wishing to participate in an online workshop setting c) All poets at all stages of their writing -- please indicate if you feel you are a beginner or wish to be classed as a poet who wants to 'move on.'
Geraldine is closing her MySpace site to have more time to travel and teach, but Googling Geraldine Green Poet Cumbria can start your own adventures.
A Matter Of Perspective
Like so many others, I grew up in a religious environment where more focus was on how other denominations and religions differed from ours than what we all have in common. In adulthood, through friendships with honorable people from a diversity of theological backgrounds, I have come to appreciate the points of commonality. This bit of anonymous verse floats around cyberspace and celebrates my feeling brilliantly; thanks to Betty Hofer and Millie Robinson for recent sharings of it. Bill
He was just a little boy,
On a week’s first day.
Wandering home from Bible school,
And dawdling on the way.
He scuffed his shoes into the grass;
He even found a caterpillar.
He found a fluffy milkweed pod,
And blew out all the ‘filler.’
A bird’s nest in a tree overhead,
So wisely placed up so high.
Was just another wonder,
That caught his eager eye.
A neighbor watched his zig zag course,
And hailed him from the lawn;
Asked him where he’d been that day
And what was going on.
’I’ve been to Bible School ,’
He said and turned a piece of sod.
He picked up a wiggly worm replying,
’I’ve learned a lot about God.’
’M’m very fine way,’ the neighbor said,
’for a boy to spend his time.’
’If you’ll tell me where God is,
I’ll give you a brand new dime.’
Quick as a flash the answer came!
Nor were his accents faint.
’I’ll give you a dollar, Mister,
If you can tell me where God ain’t.’
Bryan Clark Gossip, Inspiration, and Slander Rainfeather Records bryanclarkmusic.com There are a number of new experiences here, starting with the very package containing TWO CDs, one identified as "Acoustic" and the other as "Electric." The two discs share three songs, reflecting the old adage that a good song is a good song regardless of style or fashion. And the adventures continue: The Acoustic offering is performed by guitar whiz Clark, also sings lead, plays Dobro, and helps with background vocals; Chris Pandolfi on banjo; fiddler Casey Dreisen; Matt Flinner, mandolin; Bryn Bright, acoustic bass; with James Wiggington and Kristin Clark also on background vocals. To borrow from and build on a quote in Bryan's bio on his website, we might call this a collection of non-preservation-mindset bluegrass music. With classics "Blackberry Blossom" and "Bill Cheatum" folded into his own tunes and songs, the set does NOT sound like it was recorded at a one kilowatt rural radio station in 1956, note for note like the pickers' heroes might have done it -- this is live, heart throbbing, toe tapping, butt kicking bluegrass music that those of us playing "like our heroes" back in the '50s could never have imagined. Obviously, bluegrass should be preserved, but it should also be allowed to grow.
The Electric CD of Brother Clark's extraordinary offering is a surprise, too; think he gathered up top flight rockers and jazzers? Nope; except for Ronnie Brooks playing rhythm guitar on "Don't Blame Me" and Ron Gomez playing bass on "Nights Like These," Bryan plays EVERY thing on every song -- guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and surely some other stuff that is not always easy to ID, what with our age of synths and hybrid instruments. It may be me, but I get the deeper twinges of emotion on this CD from the bluesier as opposed to the rock and jazz tracks, but the musician in me is awed in every measure. I'll let you garner the details from his bio and other pages of his website, but Bryan has pursued guitar mastery since the age of nine, deciding at a Berkeley jazz camp during high school that music should be a "serious" pursuit. Well, serious enough that he got a Ph.D. in music and is on the adjunct faculty of Belmont, teaching such basics as harmony and history of American song. He is also obviously on a growing number of session call lists, using his studio at home to keep growing with solo and group opportunities. In short, Bryan Clark is a serious-yet-joyous element of the Nashville music community; this is not his first CD but, if you don't have the others, this is an excellent start, as observers who should know say it is his best. I have not heard the others, so I can't say, but I will say this is really good music and it is performed with jubilant excellence.
Kiley's Stimulus Plan For
Brazil; She Does It Herself!
A student at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Kiley Heth is heading South this summer, all the way to Brazil, in fact. Her Human Development And Family Studies class will spend several days each in Curritiba, Porto Allegra, and Rio de Janeiro, learning respective community developments doing volunteer work at youth shelters. The shelters are a critical element in holding back the force of poverty in Brazil, providing health and education opportunities for otherwise optionless kids.
The trip includes markets, craft events, the Christ The Redeemer statue and the beach at Rio, and using the comprehensive public transportation system in Curritiba. Quite an adventure.
To help cover the cost, Kiley has re-activated her Trendy Like Monsters purse business, which started accidentally during her sophomore year in high school, decorating her own purse. Friends asking for her touch led to the actual business, which has done WELL, but put on hiatus for college work. Now the revenue can be of great help; for info on styles and colors, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell her Uncle Willam sent you.
Russ And Becky
Gradually Shifting Gears
Russ and Becky Jeffers starting performing at Opryland USA within the first couple of years the park was open. Whatever the enormous total of visitors came to till it closed, that's a rough estimate of how many people the personable couple from East Tennessee have entertained, as MOST people visiting the park caught their show at least once, a number augmented by many gigs at the hotel and their active booking endeavors over the past dozen years since the park.
Russ told me at the recent R.O.P.E. social that he is "in the bus business," working with Hemphill Brothers on Dickerson Road -- we'll have more on that a bit down the way. I asked if they are still performing: "For people who know us and ask us to come to their event and play because we've been there before and they know what we do," he disclosed, "yes, we're still performing. Got home at four am today from a date in Clinton, Tennessee, last night, in fact, which is why Becky's not here; she had a sore throat and needed more rest. I needed to be around my people here!! As for hiring a booking agent and rounding up dates, no, we don't do that any more."
"Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill." Siddhartha Gotoma
What you say to a child could very well last a lifetime. He was a musician, a songwriter, considered a poet laureate among his peers and a living legend. A modern day conundrum of confidence and humility, he had a voice as warm as whiskey. His hands were gnarled and bent with age and his face weathered from years in the sun. An unapologetic warm southern drawl punctuated every nuance of his words and his laughter came easily and often.
Some might say it was a miracle he was even here, heck - he’d probably tell you the same thing with that infectious mischievous glint in his eyes that were as faded and blue as the denim shirt he wore. His life hadn’t been an easy one for certain, some of the hardships coming by circumstances and others from readily admitted self-inflicted folly. We were scheduled to talk about his new record and we did just that, but as often happens, our conversation eventually took an alternate path, and we spent most of our time that afternoon talking off the record about his life.
It was no secret to anyone who knew him that the past few years had doled out more than its fair share of sorrow in his direction. He’d lost his wife and mother to cancer and his son to a drug overdose. His way of coping with the abundance of grief was to immerse himself in his music, and he hit the road hard. One night on stage in a roadhouse he suffered a heart attack.
We talked about his struggles, regrets and the unending responsibility of being a parent. In confidence, he shared his most intimate thoughts on the passing of his son. It had been a few years earlier, and yet I could still hear the catch in his voice when he spoke about him. There was more than a tinge of regret laced with ever present despair in his voice as he conveyed stories of his son’s short life, with unbridled fatherly pride. I heard the inflections of undying love in his voice for his mother and his wife. Time had done nothing to dull the love nor the pain.
At one point as he shared his story, I found myself speechless. Here was a man who, had he been walking in anyone else’s shoes, would have given up years ago and no one would have thought him a lesser man, and yet here he was with an innate strength that emanated from him that couldn’t keep him down.
"What is it that keeps you going?" I asked him bluntly. He just smiled and chuckled a bit, and then he shared the phrase that his grandmother always told him when he was a child. Each time that he’d get discouraged or felt that limitations existed between what he wanted and the ability to achieve it, she’d gently remind him that "can’t never could do anything".
Such a simple phrase, but here it was decades later and this man was still applying the lessons it taught to get through some of life’s most momentous challenges. Can’t simply wasn’t in his vocabulary. It had gotten him through unthinkable tragedies and along the way helped him achieve all of his childhood dreams.
By the goodness that this universe graces me with, here he was now sharing those words of wisdom with me. There have been many times since our conversation that day that I’ve felt my dreams were cornered by life circumstances, but each time those same words would run through the back of my brain in that southern whiskey soaked drawl reminding me that achieving the impossible is only an action away at any given time.
Kimberly R. Rockdale
Bill's note pertaining to the preceding: Kimberly posted this on Facebook in an online community more concerned with writing than with music, thus there was no point in identifying the interviewee, as the focus was more on what is said than on who said it. The more I read it, the more convinced I became that OUR readers will immediately know him, so we chose to leave the focus at it was. If you don't recognize him, let me know.
One of our new subscribers is Ann Burns, who lives in the basic area of Nebraska where she has been all of her life. Her father and his family participated in local music events with "their old-fashioned orchestra," and Ann grew up to play rhythm piano for her fiddling/mandolin-playing dad at house parties and barn dances, along with whatever other musicians were available.
"I was thrilled only the other day when visiting with a gentleman from a few miles north of my home," Ann relates. "We happened to speak of people we knew in the area. He asked my maiden name, I told him, and he said, 'You must be Clark’s daughter.' His parents knew mine because of my dad playing for square dances. We were poor farmers, but it was a good, clean life, and we had music, not only for our own entertainment, but also to share with neighbors."
A Pertinent Quote
I’ve always believed that it is important for us as individual human beings to have a cause. We need something worth dying for. Otherwise, merely living is so hollow." Jennifer Grassman
An Evening Of
Country Music Magic
Please know that nobody was fooling anybody April 1 as a sizeable gathering of entertainers entertained a sizeable gathering of fans, all for the purpose of helping defray medical costs for the late Ernie Ashworth and cancer survivor Ray Griff. Tracey K. Houston put the event together with help from David McCormick and others.
The highlights swooped in like bats chasing skeeters on a hot night, so we'll try to focus on everybody getting credited, although that may be a stretch of my capabilities. First act was Jesse McReynolds and The Virginia Boys, a troupe at this point consisting of two of Jesse's grandsons and two neighbors, which is homegrown, I would think. Jesse's comment that he and his brother had played lots of kinds of music over the years, "so maybe I'm still trying to figure out what to do when I grow up" is especially pertinent knowing he sees his 80th birthday this year!!
Stu Phillips did a couple of pretty songs in his inimitable fashion and also served as emcee for the whole event, appropriately discussing the situation at hand. And he shared some of his pulpit humor. Funny stuff.
Next, Jack Greene came out, needing a bit of help to navigate but whalloping "Statue Of A Fool" with the power of past decades. A quick band change was made for James Intveld, whose rockabilly sensibilities were dowsed with the propane power of Chris Scruggs on steel guitar!! Whew!!! Also with James were guitarist Eddie Perez, drummer Mark Horn, and Mark Miller on bass.
Another change brought Lonzo and Oscar on for some genuine country basics, with a focus on a full duet of "I'm My Own Grandpa" and a rousing "Old Country Church." Tracey's band, consisting of Bill Poe on steel, Chris Cassello on lead guitar, Jim Hunt on drums, Scott Icenogle on upright bass, and Adolfo Mayo on piano, came on and backed Jim Ed Brown with a fun reading of "Pop A Top," followed by Tracey coming out for a duet with Jim Ed on "I Heard The Bluebirds Sing."
Tracey then sang a Ray Griff song that Jean Shepard recorded, "It's The Wine That's Talking," after which she brought Troy Cook, Jr. out for a duet.
Then Crystal Gayle, performing with Tracey's staff band and her pianist, Will Barrow, created yet another texture of the wonderful country music tapestry, followed by Stonewall Jackson, one of the indisputable characters and unique interpreters, working with Robert Allen on harmonica and Stonewall, Jr. on drums plus the staff band.
Okay, then the show cranked up another notch as Stu introduced David Ball, whose recordings I've heard but whose live show had missed me. Wow! The unit is David on a lot of rhythm guitar, Troy Cook, Jr. playing a WHOLE lot of lead guitar and doing Johnny Paycheck calibre harmonies, Bill Cook (no relation, I understand) on bass, with a drummer whose name did not register in my notes in the dark! Honoring basics by opening with "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down," followed by his own "Thinking Problem," David exemplifies that some seriously real country music has made today's playlists and he should be with us as long as he chooses. Thanks Tracey and David McCormick for a wonderful evening.
Information Concerning the Loretta Johnson Benefit
A benefit to help defray medical expenses had already been planned for Tuesday of CMA Fest/Fan Fair week in June; that show will go on as a tribute to Loretta; meanwhile, the family requests memorials in lieu of flowers be donations to the Loretta Johnson Medical Fund Contribution Account, Bank Of America, 133 Franklin Road, Brentwood TN 37027 OR mail to: IFCO-Loretta Johnson Medical Fund, P.O. Box 40328, Nashville TN 37204.
There is always a chair with your
name on it at Uncle Willam's Place
And it ALWAYS comes
down to the music: