As a platinum-selling country music artist and, more importantly, a lifelong fan of the genre, I’d like to send out this heartfelt plea to the gatekeepers of the industry:
I’d like to think that I am expressing what nearly every artist, musician and songwriter (with perhaps a few exceptions) is thinking when I contend that the Bro’ Country phenomenon must cease.
It has had its run for better or worse and it’s time for Nashville to get back to producing, and more importantly promoting, good singers singing real songs. It’s time for country music to find its identity again before it is lost forever.
I know, I run the risk of being labeled as a “has-been, carrying sour grapes” by speaking out. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had my run from 1991 until 2002 and I’m quite thankful for that.
I have more hits than I can possibly play in a single concert. I had my day and I do not begrudge anyone having theirs.
But as someone who grew up loving and being forever affected by the true greats of country music, I simply have to offer up this plea to the Nashville country music industry to reclaim the identity and poetic greatness that once was our format. The well-written poetic word of the country song has disappeared.
There appears to be not even the slightest attempt to “say” anything other than to repeat the tired, overused mantra of redneck party boy in his truck, partying in said truck, hoping to get lucky in the cab of said truck, and his greatest possible achievement in life is to continue to be physically and emotionally attached to the aforementioned truck as all things in life should and must take place in his, you guessed it...truck.
I didn’t mind the first two or three hundred versions of these gems but I think we can all agree by now that everything’s been said about a redneck and his truck, that can possibly be said. It is time to move on to the next subject. Any subject, anything at all.
Willie Nelson once wrote in his early song, "Shotgun Willie," that “you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say.” Apparently, that’s not the case anymore.
Disposable, forgettable music has been the order of the day for quite a while now and it’s time for that to stop.
Our beautiful, time-honored genre, has devolved from lines like, “I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday ... holding Bobby’s body next to mine,” and “a canvas covered cabin, in a crowded labor camp stand out in this memory I revive. Cause my Daddy raised a family there with two hard working hands….and tried to feed my Momma’s hungry eyes,” down to “Can I get a Yee Haw?”
And the aforementioned Truck! “Come on slide them jeans on up in my truck! Let’s get down and dirty in muh truck, doggone it I just get off riding in muh truck, I love ya honey, but not as much as muh truck!” Oh and we can’t leave out the beautiful prose about partying in a field or pasture.
Now I’m not saying all songs should be somber ballads or about heavy, profound emotional subject matter. On the contrary, great fun, rockin’, party songs, describing the lifestyle of blue collar country folk have always been a staple of the genre. But compare for a minute the poetic, “middle American Shakespeare” infused lyrical prose of classics like Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” or Hank Jr’s “All My Rowdy friends are coming over tonight” or Garth Brooks’ “I’ve got friends in Low Places” or his “Ain’t going down till the sun comes up” to the likes of contemporary offerings like “That’s My Kinda Night,” or any of the other 300 plus songs from recent years that say the exact same thing in pretty much the exact same way. It’s like comparing a Rolls Royce to a ten speed.
Finally, I’m not pointing a finger at the artists and especially not the songwriters. They’re simply doing what they have to do to make a living.
It’s the major label execs, the movers and shakers, the folks who control what is shoved down radio’s throat, that I am calling out. They have the power and ability to make a commitment to make records that keep the legacy of country music alive, and reclaim a great genre’s identity.
Who knows? Some of these Bro’ Country guys could actually be awesome singers with potential to be great artists! But we‘ll never know, as long as they’re encouraged by the industry to continue being redneck flavors of the day.
It’s not fair to them or to anyone.
Thankfully there are a handful of artists out there currently who are trying to keep integrity in the mainstream. Miranda Lambert is one of them. There are a few others but not nearly enough to rescue the terminally ill format.
It must start with the gatekeepers. The true fans of country music deserve nothing less.
The artists of my era knew we weren’t as cool or great as the true greats of the past but we did try to hold to a standard that they had set, which built and sustained the Nashville industry and truly made country music an American art form. It needs to be that way once again.
God Bless Hank Williams. God Bless George Jones.