OA: Rock Cesario Column March 20, 2009
There should always be room for outlaws of country music
Country music. Who do you think of when I say that?
When I used to cook for my brother’s hunting camp, if the hunters were from the eastern part of this nation, they would call it country music if it had an acoustic guitar in it, no matter what it was.
The same music played for the hunters from the South or Southwest might be called rock ’n’ roll.
So, I guess it depends on your perception, and you really you never know.
Growing up in western Colorado, I listened to a lot of country music.
I heard it on the radio because country music was and still is most popular type of music here.
I also heard it through the records of my grandmother, and my aunt, Norma Jean.
We had no television when we went to the ranch in the summer, so at night and on rainy days we listened to records by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Chet Atkins and George Jones, among others.
As you can see, a few of those were considered “outlaw” country artists, and I guess those roots sunk pretty deep because a lot of the music I still listen to now was influenced by those early “outlaws.”
This led me to one of my very favorite artists of the genre, Waylon Jennings, and his partner in crime, Willie Nelson.
In 1975, while working at Smokestack Records, I bought the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys’ “For the Last Time.” Those are still two of my favorite recordings.
I bought Rodney Crowell’s first album in 1977 because I knew he was in Emmylou Harris’ “hot band” at that time.
I could not believe how good that record was, and I have been a big Crowell fan since. Other artists I listened to in the late 1970s were Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Chris Hillman,
Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith. All of them are still making great music.
In the 1980s, country music, in my opinion, for the most part went the way of Urban Cowboy, all polished up and buffed out, losing most of its gritty edge.
That was followed by Garth Brook’s entry into the world of pop/country in the 1990s when country music became the No. 1 radio format in this country.
Randy Newman wrote a song about the whole movement called “Big Hat No Cattle.”
That being said, there were still some artists who kept the earlier traditions alive and/or stuck to the “outlaw” side of country music in those two decades.
Besides many of the artists I mentioned above, I listened to Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Desert Rose Band, The O’ Kanes, Foster and Lloyd, Tom Russell, Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane and Radney Foster.
Cast aside by Nashville in the 1980s, Johnny Cash was approached by producer Rick Rubin in 1993 to record for the American Recordings label. The four records Cash made with Rubin are among his best, and Cash won a Grammy in 1998 for Best Country Record.
Instead of thanking the country music establishment that rejected him, he took out a full-page ad in Billboard magazine featuring a picture of a younger Cash flipping the bird.
It was a not-so-subtle hint of how he felt about the “establishment” at that time.
I don’t blame him.