I have been listening to a lot of country music lately and like most subjects, I have an opinion. First, to establish my credentials for speaking out, let me offer this. I have been a working, professional musician for more than 45 years. When I was a kid, my parents listened to The Grand Old Opry on radio. I started singing in public at the age of six and learned guitar at age 9. I describe myself as a country/folkie and I’ve lived long enough to see country music go through a number of changes. I also spent a few years in the late 60’s and early 70’s, working as a disc jockey, playing country music at WFKY radio in Frankfort, Kentucky and WVJS in Owensboro, Ky.
In the 50’s and early 60’s, when I was growing up, you heard artists like Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, George and Tammy, Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, the great Merle Haggard and the recently departed Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells.
Another decade passed and the music became a bit more sophisticated; what they called Countrypolitan, with artists like Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Mary Robbins and the smooth sounds of Ray Price, backed up by an orchestra, crooning Kris Kristofferson’s For the Good times.
Then Mickey Gilley’s giant Texas saloon and the movie Urban Cowboy ushered in and re-introduced the cowboy and the age of the Outlaws. It was Waylon and Willie and the boys. Hank Jr., David Allen Coe and a bunch of other singer-writers were a welcome throwback to simpler times, traditional themes and the rowdy, hard drinking, hard-working, lying, cheating, dark underbelly that always defined real country music.
So here’s my take. I think the musicians playing todays country are maybe the best the genre has ever known. The guitar licks, pedal steel runs, fancy fiddling and musical arrangements are H O T, hot. However, the lyrics and storytelling, with a few notable exceptions, are so cookie cutter similar they bore me to tears. Chord changes are so predictable the songs become practically interchangeable. Where is the originality?
George Jones is as traditionally country as it gets. Even he has gone off on the new breed of country artists, while still offering kind words to the musicians like Alan Jackson, George Strait and a handful of others who still embrace the sound and fury that always was part and parcel of country… and western.
Call me old and out of touch. You won’t be the first. Instrumentally, today’s pickers knock me out. In every other category, modern country bores me stiff. I have no doubt someone else will come along and, one of these days, redefine the genre. Until that time, I’ll just have to be content with the artists I recognize as authentic country musicians. There’s something to be said for paying one’s musical dues in beer joints, hillbilly bars and VFW halls. That’s where the people are. That’s where the stories are. That’s where the country music I love lives.