Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hillbilly As Korn Likker

What happened to country music? In the late 1970's through the early 1990's, country was my music of choice, and I listened to it daily. Artists such as Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis, Patty Loveless, George Strait, The Whites, Waylon, Goerge Jones, Iris Dement, Mel McDaniel, Holly Dunn...there are so many more. And the radio stations, especially WCXI a.m. here in Detroit would play this wonderful hillbilly music. My wife and I would go to every concert that came to town and, in many cases, even got to meet our country music heroes. We took our honeymoon in Nashville, listening to our favorites all the way down and all the way back. One time we traveled north during an ice storm to Saginaw, Michigan to see Ricky Skaggs and The Whites perform together at the Saginaw Civic Center - awesome show!
But, sometime during the 1990's something happened. This great traditional hillbilly music changed seemingly overnight. I guess I directly blame Garth Brooks. Why? Because he was a rock and roller who turned country but kept the r&r roots, thusly pretty much becoming a rock and country performer. And he made a whole lot of money. Then others followed suit, the record labels searching to find pretty boys with loud guitars and women who wore less clothing than their supposed rock and roll counterparts. Next thing you know, we have all rock and country musicians who cared more about how good they looked in their videos than playing real country music. Even many of the traditional artists whom I loved began to turn rock and alternative, and the music went straight downhill from there. I guess what sealed how bad country music had become was when my brother-in-law, who had always hated the music, became a fan. I knew then what was being played was not country but some bastardized off shoot.
Then, a ray of hope: the "O Brother Where Art Thou" movie soundtrack and tour became popular, followed by the "Cold Mountain" soundtrack and tour a couple of years later. Yesss!!!
Unfortunately, the stations didn't touch the music - they instead stuck to the current crop of country crap that they've been playing, ignoring a large portion of the listening public. And here we are once again, having to dig through the stack of BS to find one of the tiny gems: Alison Krause, The Cox Family, maybe a couple others.
Ah well, another part of Americana lost to contemporary corporate greed, like everything else.
Such a shame.

Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Allison Krause
from the "O Brother Where Art Thou" tour 2002

1 comment:

Mike Gillett said...

Ken - amen, brother! I soooo agree. My dad was a big fan of the old country-and-western music. I doubt he would enjoy what is being passed-off for that today at all. So-called cowboy music... played by some pretty-boy from Chicago or Philadelphia - cowboy only because he is wearing a stetson and does truck commercials. It all sounds the same and it is boring.

Do you remember "Honky Tonk Man"?