What is Musical Bigotry? Well, what is bigotry? The attitude, state of mind, or behavior characteristic of a bigot; intolerance. When I say musical bigotry, I'm talking about those who are intolerant of a particular style of music, or a particular strain of that style. Take country for instance. Now I know I might make some people mad, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "what they play on the radio isn't real country". What people usually mean by that is that it doesn't sound like traditional country to them. It's not pure enough, it's tainted by Pop and rock influences. Well, yes much of it is, but let's step back for a second and see where country music's roots come from.
In the southern Appalachians "Old Time Music", usually played with fiddles in one form or another had been popular since English settlers moved there shortly after the French Indian War. The first settlement west of the Appalachians was in 1771. Popular songs in those days were "Rock of Ages, Cleft For Thee" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy". In addition to the English influence on Appalachian music, there were also Irish and Scottish tunes and instruments that made there way into the repertoire due to their growing population. In the 1920s Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family were signed to RCA Victor, and The Grand Ole' Opry started broadcasting what we would now call our first real glimpse at what would become country music.
In the 30s and 40s the "Western" influence on country music came about, which is why a lot of people called it "Country and Western". Cowboy music and Western Swing grew in popularity. Around the same time, Bill Monroe began playing at The Grand Ole Opry, and bluegrass became another musical branch of country music. The Honky Tonk style of Hank Williams defined country music in the late 40s and early 50s until his death New Year's Day, 1953. After Hank, there was Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Eddie Arnold, and on and on with each of them adding their own geographical and dialectic nuances. Willie and Waylon, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, MY DAD: Charlie Rich, Charlie Pride, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Buck, and Merle brought about yet another incarnation of what country music was.
Hawaiian Cowboys? Yep!
When they first added "Hawaiian guitar", (we call it steel guitar today) to country music, there were lots of folks again' it. When Bob Wills added the Dixieland and jazz element to his unique brand of Western Swing, there were lots of folks again' it too. I'm sure some of them probably said, "That ain't country". Well, it is now. When Johnny Cash added horns to "Ring of Fire", same thing. There were critics and fans that thought my father, Charlie Rich, sounded to citified. In fact they called it Countrypolitan. Some thought Charlie just didn't twang enough, which is unusual since he grew up as a sharecropper's son in eastern Arkansas. Could it just be that there were more country folks living in the big cities by 1973?
So, it's changed a bit over the years. When country music began we were largely a rural nation. Generally we had a much higher percentage of farmers and people that lived in the "country". Now we've moved to the cities. Farms got more mechanized. I'll bet a lot of the country stars today have never worked on a ranch, rode a horse, or milked a cow. They haven't had to. We travel in cars. We buy our milk at the grocery store. That doesn't mean they're not "country", it just means that they're not 1927 to 1949 country. Their life experience is different. They're musical influences are different. They grew up listening to The Beatles AND Merle Haggard. Lefty Frizzel AND Led Zepplin. It's not their fault, it's just reality. Does that mean country music is dead. Hell no! I like what Kenny Rogers said, "country music is whatever country people buy". I like that. I think it really gets to the heart of the dilemma. I think there will always be country music in one form or another. It may change some, but who's to say it won't get better? The evolution of country music reflects changes in society. It speaks truths that apply to today's country fans?
Oxymorons: blues snobs and jumbo shrimp
While I was living in Memphis I discovered that their are "blues snobs" too. Yeah, this one fellow said he didn't like Keb Mo' because it wasn't real blues. Well, heck he won the Grammy. Someone liked him. He was voted Blues Artist of The Year. I was there the night Stevie Ray Vaughn won the the same award years earlier. My father and B.B. King were emcees that night, so I got to meet and jam with him. He was a wonderful guy. Very genuine and no pretense. I remember him as a real gentleman. I also remember some of the old die hard blues guys saying, "man, that ain't real blues". Well, it is now.
I don't think MOST people are musical bigots. In fact, I think a lot of the musical bigotry comes from within the industry itself, and is promulgated by the desire for money? The music industry feels that once you've "undefined" country, blues or rock, their very job could be in peril. They are in the business of sales. The shorter the pitch, the easier it is to keep your attention. God forbid we have to explain the subtleties or complexities of a piece of music. Time is money. What that leads to is "cookie-cutter music. Formulas and the same old playing it safe stuff.
Without variety there can be no growth. Think about it. What if all you ever heard on the radio was Alan Jackson. Now, I really like Alan Jackson, but wouldn't it get old to have a steady diet of "just" Alan Jackson? What if all you could listen to was Bach? I love Bach, but really, wouldn't it get a little old if they had a classical station that just played Bach? I know that's a slight exaggeration, but history is repleat with so called musical purists. In Germany during W.W.II, one of Hitler's first dictates was to control what was good. By who's friggin' criteria? Hitler's, that's who. When people put constraints on music, such as it isn't country enough or it isn't real blues, isn't that just enforcing the same sentiments? Musical diversity. It really is the American way.
Still more stuff...
- Being taken seriously.
- How my father became a star.
- So, you wanna' be a country star?
- Who do you like better, Garth or Gershwin?
- You'll eat what you're served...
- The Media: Out with the old, in with the new.
- It's great exposure.
Thoughts on some of the people I've played with or known.
- Charlie Rich
- Freddy Fender
- Smokey Robinson
- Jo-El Sonnier
- Randy Meisner
- Billy Swan
- Flaco Jimenez
- Augie Meyers
- Doug Sahm
- Jerry Lee Lewis
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