The Fabulous Emptywheel Music Blog: Country AND Western Edition!

Welp, it has been another glorious month week living the glorious life in Trump’s America. So let’s have a little fun and games.

I am pretty much normally a rock and roll person. Ed Walker’s opera and Zappa post was wonderful. So, let’s change it up a bit. Country and Western! Believe it or not, when I was younger, and before I had a drivers license, I went to a few C&W shows with some family friends. He was, seriously the principal of my grade school, and his wife the school nurse. Both simply fantastic people. And they loved C&W.

Pretty sure the first one was Johnny Cash and the Carter Family. I was not expecting much, I was just going because, well why not? And boy was I wrong. Fantastic. Oh, and I do believe the great Carl Perkins was on guitar for Cash at the time and did a truly rocking version of Blue Suede Shoes.

My recollection is that the second was Charlie Pride. Again truly fantastic.

What a presence. What a band. What a voice. Smooth and beautiful.

The third was Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. They had a huge following in Phoenix from very early on. In their early years they were serious regulars, if not kind of the erstwhile house band, at the original Phoenix Honky Tonk, Mr. Lucky’s.

Mr. Lucky’s was a place that regularly hosted some of the biggest names in country music – Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Tom T. Hall, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and pretty much everybody else. But Buck and the Buckaroos kind of owned the joint (literally for a while as I recall).

There is truly a lot of great country and Western out there, lets discuss it!

Normal Trash Talk rules apply, anything and everything flies.

214 replies
  1. Ginevra diBenci says:

    Thanks for bringing back some powerful memories. Now: Vince Gill and Lil Nas X. Then: anyone with the last name Cash, especially Johnny. And I still cry every time I hear Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” Crying now just thinking about it.

    • Valerie Klyman-Clark says:

      Glen’s version is beautiful. The Meters do a great cover of Wichita Lineman, too.

      My father used to sing Eddie Arnold’s Cattle Call around the house, yodels and all. He sang very well.

      Patsy Cline. Lucinda Williams. Emmylou. A lot of Southern Rock straddles country, yes? Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker count?

  2. Stephen Calhoun says:

    The virtuosity of Flatt and Scruggs changed my musical life around 1968. I ventured with my mom over to the west side of Cleveland to go to a legendary record store that specialized in polka, Tommy Edwards. In the bins was a Columbia twofer of Flatt and Scruggs. I was motivated to buy it by seeing their appearance on TV; maybe on the Smothers Brothers or on Hee Haw, (don’t remember.)

    In the fall of 1969, I started 10th grade at a private school on the east side of Cleveland and fell immediately under the spell of a charismatic fellow classmate—also new to the school—Jamie C. His father started one of the first mall-oriented record chains, Disc Records, so every Tuesday Jamie would get several boxes of new release promos. At the time, he had the biggest record collection I ever saw. My tastes were hardly developed at all at the time. Among the first records he auditioned for me were The Guilded Palace of Sin, by the Flying Burrito Brothers, all the Byrds records up to that point, with pride of place given to Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and, Ian and Sylvia. This was the beginning.

    Soon enough I was tracking back to the classics, of which Parton/Waggoner, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, and, the Bakersfield sound kicked off my enthusiasm. Looking back at a lifetime of involvement with music, my insistence on musicianship, (a rather deleterious bias,) is anchored to marveling at Flatt and Scruggs. When I was running a record store in the early seventies in Cleveland Heights, Harvey Pekar grumpily turned me on to a lot of jazz. He blew off my enthusiasm for bluegrass yet admitted about Flatt and Scruggs, “they sure could play.”

    Great times. Thanks for asking.

    • bmaz says:

      Flatt and Scruggs really could play. Between them and Roy Clark (a very underrated guitar player as well) were so good, I bought a banjo. We were in Murray Kentucky at the time to visit relatives and brought it home with us. Never could play it for squat. It was harder to pick up than I thought. But, man, people who can play a banjo well are amazing.

  3. 90’s Country says:

    I’ve been lurking here forever without commenting, in fear of bmaz’s sharp tongue and all the intelligent folks whose comments I enjoy reading, but I guess my day has come. I came to Nashville from Southern California forty years ago to try my hand at songwriting, which was my hobby at the time. The regular job thing wasn’t working out, so to speak, for me. It took ten years to learn how to write a hit country song but I didn’t have any choice so I hung in there and had a bunch of success in the ‘90s, capping it off with a song called I Hope You Dance that won all the awards.
    Johnny Cash actually cut one of my songs in the mid-‘80s but it was after he’d been a star and before he became a legend. Timing is everything.
    They haven’t called it “& Western” for forty years. Old Nashville wasn’t good at sharing credit. The city and its music has been constantly changing in the years I’ve been here, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. 9/11 brought out the awful macho side and the insipid religious leanings of the business. Luckily I’d already had a good run and could watch in horror.
    Anyway, I’m here and have been here for quite a while. Nice to officially say hello.

    • bmaz says:

      Hi 90’s Country! Thank you for joining in, and you should regularly. If not trolled with bullshit, and you have no idea how much of that there is, I am not that at all scary. Not sure I am anyway, because the trolls keep flocking here. We see a LOT that the average reader does not.

      But, anyway, do join in often, there is a real community here. Now I am off to find that song and listen to it.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks for jumping into comments. Don’t mind bmaz, he’s our resident junkyard dog, barks to scare off the troublemakers (and we do have them, based on the pile in our ‘boneyard’).

      For me the post-9/11 purge in U.S. country was wholly obvious with the way the Dixie Chicks were treated. Should have listened to them and saved ourselves a trillion dollars and global credibility.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      Congratulations on hanging in there and getting the career you set out to get.

      I miss the western part of C & W. My secret favorite is old honky tonk; I am fond of all of the Outlaws and some of the cornier old stuff from the 60’s & 70’s. Buck, Dolly and Porter, just Dolly, Merle, even The Sons of the Pioneers.

      Not a big fan of the latest contemporary for the most part.

      My daughter recently moved to Nashville so we have enjoyed finding the smaller singer-song writer places. Her 9 year old daughter sang her own song and played guitar for her first recital at The Bluebird last year. And John Stone from Tootsies sang for the after party for her wedding last summer.

      Willie Nelson is one of the greatest singers and writers of all time.

      Don’t be shy.

      • Peterr says:

        Last April, Texas Monthly did an epic ranking of all of Willie’s albums. Here’s how they described the project, with a couple of lines bolded for emphasis:

        Our plan was to listen to, rank, and review every Willie album. The first step alone was a monster; just identifying every album was a massive undertaking. We excluded bootlegs and collections made up exclusively of previously released material—no greatest hits records—and still the number we arrived at was staggering: 143 distinct, proper albums. We also formed the Committee, a group of fourteen knowledgeable fans—including Willie biographer Joe Nick Patoski, noted country historian Rich Kienzle, and songwriters Robert Earl Keen, Jack Ingram, Bruce and Charlie Robison, Monte Warden, and Damon Bramblett—who contributed ranked lists of their favorite records. A byzantine scoring system was devised, and then a smaller group—the writers with bylines below—started assigning points to records. Finally, after months of phone calls, email threads, and one long, often heated summit meeting in January, we arrived at this list.

        There were many debates throughout the process, but one bears retelling. When I asked Warden to participate, I used the phrase “worst-to-first” to describe the project. He shot back fast. “Excuse me,” he said, “we don’t use the word ‘worst’ when we talk about Willie.” The line was funny, but it proved true. Think about it: The Beatles built their legacy on a mere thirteen albums, not all of which are beloved. But the Willie album that comes in fourteenth on this list is a lot of people’s favorite. The album that comes in fifty-first is one of mine. Even the hundredth album is pretty darn good. And that’s the list’s big revelation: almost every Willie album has something to recommend it, a song or two, or a story about how it was made, that gives distinct insight into Willie and his art. After all, the only way to really know Willie is to listen to his music. And there’s plenty of it that you haven’t heard yet.

        As I said on a music thread a while back, I’m a big Steve Goodman fan. When I think about his biggest hit – The City of New Orleans – it’s Willie’s version that echos in my head.

        I used to take that train to and from home and college, back in the day, and Goodman nails the experience in his lyrics. But it’s Willie’s voice that just fits the song so well.

          • John Paul Jones says:

            Steve Goodman’s estate put out a great compilation 2-CD set after his untimely death. Lots of great material, though it doesn’t have one of my favourite lines of his (talking about a hotel room he’s holed up in):

            It’s got a Gideon Bible and a mirror that lies.
            A mirror that lies, a mirror that lies,
            That can’t be me, it’s the mirror that lies.

    • bmaz says:

      Okay, I am back. Not going to out 90’s Country, we do not do that to friends here. I have listened to both a studio cut and a live one, and it is really all that good. And, yes, the biggest of performers have covered him. Here is Gladys Knight, who is incredible in her phrasing. Few things are better than the artist himself though, and this one that joined in today is really, really good.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        There’s a reason that song is a standard on singing competition shows. Great songwriting is so much harder than it might look. Thanks, bmaz, for the cover recs. And thanks, 90’s Country, for the artistry.

      • John Paul Jones says:

        Wow. What a song. “And if you get the choice to sit it out or dance,/I hope you dance.” The second phrase there, mysteriously, brought tears. Just, wow. It touches that chord in every parent, that our kids grow up straight and true, and are blessed, but you don’t feel that mystic touch until you get to those two lines, and then you know that somebody else feels the way you do. Amazing.

        • e.a.f. says:

          The first time a friend of mine played, “the dance” for me it bowled me over.
          What the dance did for my head was amazing. What if it hadn’t happened from one event to another would I have arrived to where I had 10 years of the most amazing time of my life. the Dance made me realize all the pain of getting to that 10 years was worth it. After 4 spousal units, etc. it was some one else’s children for 10 yrs, that made my life complete. My dance was complete.

      • 90’s Country says:

        Thanks for all the welcoming comments and compliments. The Gladys Knight cut is definitely one of my favorites. She first recorded it for Tyler Perry’s movie “The Family That Preys” and later on did her own version.
        But about Mike Flynn…

        • Peterr says:

          “But about Mike Flynn…”

          Sounds to me like there’s a song coming on. Maybe Roger Stone and Mike Flynn discussing their post-pardon plans? “Heads, off to Moscow; Tails, Istanbul”

              • Rayne says:

                Oh, I toyed with putting up that particular Lennox. That anthem is one I’ve sung at the top of my lungs more than a few times. But I went easy on your thread with bluesy-almost-country Jonny Lang instead.

                EDIT: I had to make a End-of-the-Relationship playlist for someone recently. I didn’t think of Would I Lie To You — will have to add it.

                You know we’re going to need one of those for the end of the Trump regime, yes?

    • Peterr says:

      I’ve been lurking here forever without commenting, in fear of bmaz’s sharp tongue and all the intelligent folks whose comments I enjoy reading, but I guess my day has come. . . .

      . . . Anyway, I’m here and have been here for quite a while. Nice to officially say hello.

      Hello back at you, 90s Country. Given your obvious way with words, I’d say that bmaz might want to watch out for you.


      It’s initial comments like yours that serve as a constant reminder to me that part of the beauty of this blog are the folks who comment, and the lurkers who lurk. Now that you’re out of the closet (so to speak), don’t hold your two cents back!

      • bmaz says:

        Agreed with Peterr. Harsh stuff from the closest thing to a spiritual advisor I have though. Peterr!

    • skillethead says:

      90’s Country,

      You wrote, “I hope you dance”?

      I think it captures every parent’s hope for their children– better than any other song or poem ever.

      Thank you for putting our dreams for our kids into words.


    • Eureka says:

      Do you have a particular favorite (or few) from your catalogue, that you wish(ed) more people heard, or would like to share?

    • Ian says:

      Hey not sure if this is Mark Sanders (or the other writer) but I had never heard I hope tou dance until I watched Mark on Barnagie Hall with the great Verlon Thompson! Great episode and so much insight into the craft. I have been writing songs for 20 years but once Delta Don took office I went into overdrive! Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Rayne says:

    As a friend once put it, “There’s only two kinds of music I don’t like. Country and Western.” LOL

    Not my cuppa’ though my dad played a lot of Charlie Pride’s stuff.

    If I have to listen to anything remotely close to American country it sounds like blues or zydeco, the latter being much closer to my maternal family’s version of country.

    Speaking of music, this twitter thread about Bruce Springsteen and NYPD came up in my timeline:

    Good stuff.

    • John Lehman says:

      The jazz drummer Buddy Rich famously didn’t like country music.
      His death bed story goes;

      Toward his end in the hospital, he was rolling back and forth in the bed and moaning loudly, a nurse came in and asked “Mr. Rich, is there something that is making you uncomfortable?”

      yes, he said

      Country Music

      …. then he rolled over and died.

      • Rayne says:

        I don’t mind the misery — I’d much prefer the blues.

        Billy Connolly is such a stitch, but he’s having one on people who share his heritage. It’s important to remember that Appalachian music like bluegrass has its roots in Scots-Irish ballads which aren’t exactly happy tunes; Scots-Irish immigrants fled oppression and starvation which was reflected in their music.

        • John Lehman says:

          Most folk music shares the same roots. Hello Bob Dylan.
          And didn’t a guy named Zimmerman appropriate the name of a great Irish poet?
          By the way I do love Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas ( getting to that age though where I “don’t” want “to go gently into that dark night”.

          Speaking of origins, wasn’t the, arguably, backbone of bluegrass musical instruments (the banjo) from Africa?

          American Swiss not Irish

  5. DesertDave says:

    Just flipped over Jerry Jeff Walker’s Driftin’ Way of Life when I saw this topic. Here’s my list of great and/or interesting listens, courtesy of a deceased family member who left his wonderful and extremely well cared for vinyl collection to me:

    Asleep at the Wheel – Fathers and Sons

    Chester and Lester

    Guy Clark – Old No. 1 and Texas Cookin’

    Hillbilly Jazz

    The Legend of Jesse James, a proggy C&W with J Cash and many other greats

    Old and in the Way – self titled

    Earl Scruggs Revue – Vol I

    The New Seldom Scene Album

    Poco – self titled

    • rosalind says:

      heh. went to see Asleep at the Wheel at the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos in the mid-80s. in the round with a rotating stage. Mr. Benson was uh, well lubricated, swinging his mic cord around and around farther and farther until “thunk!!” – a direct hit on a poor soul sitting in the front row.

      talk about a show stopper.

      • bmaz says:

        But were they good? I saw Lou Reed carried on to the stage by a couple of security types, plugged in and played the most amazing set ever (Rock and Roll Animal period) and then the came on the stage and carried him off. He was totally jonesed, but in between the cartages, he was ridiculously good.

        • rosalind says:

          oh yeah, show was great. just couldn’t relax after the guy’s head got smashed in.

        • Stephen Calhoun says:

          I’m trying to picture that.

          Sometime around 72-73, Gram Parson played The Smiling Dog Saloon here in Cleveland. Emmylou was featured. But, she was also the sober one in the band. It was the most disheartening show I ever saw. We idolized GP. He was wasted.

          My friend Jamie wanted to meet our hero. I did not. He was successful yet came back with the slimmest report, something like, “it’s amazing he could remember the lyrics.”

          GP was gone by September 1973.

          • bmaz says:

            Sorry to hear about the Parson show. I would have killed to have seen him, but maybe e not like that. Reed was good, really good, even if a bit like a statue. Did not hurt that his band at the time was incredible. Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner on guitars an d Prakash John on bass. Those guys are just insanely good. When Reed took a hiatus, they all moved as a group to join Alice Cooper during the Welcome to My Nightmare years. Basically replaced the original Billion Dollar Babies guitar and bass players, who had just split off.

            • rosalind says:

              so did you watch part one of the “Laurel Canyon” doc on Epix? Alice Cooper arrives about 30 minutes in.

              what i like is they don’t resort to the talking head thing, and instead use voice over only. this way the voices – alive and dead – tell the story. (OK, 2 photographers are seen on camera talking).


  6. X says:

    I’d like to throw in for Jim and Jesse. They may have put too much humor in for some folks, but both were incredible musicians in the country jazz vein.

  7. rattlemullet says:

    Not pure country but my first introduction to country music, albeit now labeled as country rock, was the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That album led me to listen to Willie Nelson, then to listen to Gram Parson’s Grievous Angel.

    Best to all, long time reader and infrequent commentator, of you Emptywheel. Learn a lot here about politics and law! Thank you and your frequent commenters. A blog of high integrity and music as well. Thank you

    • Peterr says:

      I have found that in many gatherings, the “infrequent commentator” is the one who brings the most important reflections on the subject at hand.

      One of the things I love about this place is the mix of folks. Credentials matter, but they’re not the last word on anything. Marcy has a PhD, but it’s in comparative literature, not politics or law. From the “About Us” page:

      Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship.

      Commenters bring their own insights, which sometimes bring more to the party than the original post or the frequent commenters. (Consider, for example, a post on country music when someone like 90s Country de-lurks. “They haven’t called it ‘& Western’ for forty years.’ No one could have anticipated . . . )

      Don’t be shy about offering your reactions and your own perspectives.

      • Stephen Calhoun says:

        For me, music is a natural opportunity to delurk.

        I’m 65. I have no credentials except for my common sense and ability to unlearn when necessary. A dabbler, a dilettante, and, a digger. At the same time, I have followed my nose fearlessly/foolishly into subject areas that have interested me over fifty years. Thelonious Monk, Gregory Bateson, William James, and Pauline Oliveros are my guiding lights. …if such name dropping means anything.

        (In my processing studio—being a late-blooming artist—is a wall with pictures of my luminaries. I hope everybody has a stable of luminaries, the people whose shoulders we stand upon. It would be a good thread to learn about whom each has been deeply influenced, humbled by.)

        There is time in my life to try to keep track of just a few blogs, and only recently has Emptywheel set itself on my playlist. (Although, I’ve lurked here at times over many years.) Sometimes I might come up with a bright idea, and then think about whether or not to slap it down on the table here. Not much gets slapped down, and it is a good yoga to first consider if what I have to say adds to the conversation.

        Being witty, I make my jokes over at LGM! Finally, I’ll slap down this: the first Mueller Report is well understood here. Thank you very very much for this.

        • Peterr says:

          The “ability to unlearn when necessary” is a helluva credential, that needs to be taught and practiced much more widely than it apparently is. Keep sharing it around here!

  8. John Paul Jones says:

    Me and some friends “discovered” country music in the early ’70s on the comedown cusp of acid rock (go figure), particularly “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” but also “Circle Be Unbroken,” with all the greats, and I think produced by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Discovered the Flying Burrito Brothers at about the same time. But even before that, as a young teen when I first got to North America from the UK (mid-’60s) I was fascinated by the intricacies of bluegrass playing, which I had literally never heard before. Tried to play the mandolin and the banjo, but settled for a guitar, which I still take out, on occasion. Do Ry Cooder’s various curatorial efforts, like “Into the Purple Valley” count as country music? “Billy the Kid,” for example.

    If no one else has mentioned it yet, I saw the tail end of a movie on TV a long time ago, and thought it was great: “Hank Williams” The Show He Never Gave,” which almost has, or seems to project, a genuine honky-tonk roadhouse ambience.

    • Stephen Calhoun says:

      Thanks John Paul Jones. Does every ‘country’ have their own country music?

      Back in the early seventies, to be a fan of Fairport Convention, Pentangle, or Matthews Southern Comfort amidst the more well known, and raucous bands from the UK, made one part of the cognescenti. A few years later I got turned onto English folk by a crew at WRMC-fm, Middlebury, Vermont.

      Shirley Collins turns 85 on July 5. Angelic sound.

      • vvv says:

        Perhaps more accurate to say that every country has its folk music. That said, a friend of mine plays bass in a country band in Dorset, England. As in, Johnnies Cash, Paycheck and Anderson – pretty good, too. I’ll note he also plays bouzouki and lute in some kind of Medieval – yep – folk band. American country music is very popular o’er there, says he.

  9. jerryy says:

    I am a little surprised you missed Dwight Yoakam, since he also hails from Kentucky (but does not play banjo very often). In 1988, his duet with Buck Owens covering “Streets of Bakersfield” hit number one on the country charts. He throws really, really good concerts. If this link thing works, this is a link to him and Buck Owens performing that tune at the ACM:

  10. Skilly says:

    Not generally being a fan of country, I stumbled on to an historic event by luck or accident. I witnessed the debut of the Dalton Brothers on November 1, 1987. (one can find a youtube performance if you search.)

    This show at the, “Hoosier Dome,” was headlined by U2 on its Joshua Tree Tour. I do not especially care for U2. Truth be told i found them too preachy. No, I was there for the opening acts. They had two of them: The BoDeans and Los Lobos. The BoDeans were awesome and easily were the best band on the stage that night. Los Lobos were flying in for the show and it seems there flight was delayed, but coming. So due to the delay there was a long gap in performances. Bono decided it was time to make fun of rural folk, so the whole band (U2) got wigs and were introduced as, “The Dalton Brothers” who were capable of playing both kinds of known music, country and western. The played the same song 3 times and left the stage without ever revealing who they were.

    Los Lobos was such a sad disappointment. Because of the lack of a sound check they never got dialed in correctly. They rushed to get there and then rushed to get off. I did not let that show effect my love for the music, but being in the Midwest the opportunities to see them live are pretty rare. As for U2, I guess if that is your cup of tea, they were ok.

  11. RMD says:

    It is an odd bit of timing to offer a post on Country as the Nation is roiling with racism. Racism in the White House, racism in the National Guard, racism in Police departments… and racism deep in the bones of Country music.

    Sorry. There’s a lotta ground they’ve got to make up for.
    And Christo-bigotry to boot.
    No thanks.

    Love Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson.

    Did see Ken Burns’ documentary…which is very good.
    Hardly touches on the elephant in the room.
    Why can no one talk about this?
    Fuck that noise.

    • bmaz says:

      What in the living fuck? Really? This is about good music, don’t imprint your own bullshit on it as a class. Because that is the vacuous bigotry we stand against here.

      I have no idea in the world who your “they” is. As Rayne noted, do you remember the Dixie Chicks and what they did and said? Yours is a bad comment.

      And, as far as the “timing”, I think we can make our own decisions, but thanks so much.

      • bmaz says:

        And, yes “RMD”, your belligerent followup was bounced because you are being a bigoted jerk.

        • RMD says:

          You’re misrepresenting me. But that’s your prerogative. It’s also bullshit.

          [You’re on thin ice. /~Rayne]

          [5:05 p.m. ET — Come back when you’ve chilled out. Your temper tantrum isn’t going to DDoS this thread. /~Rayne]

    • Peterr says:

      The Guardian had a big “top 100 #1 hits from the UK Charts” series running that just ended yesterday, and #19 on their list was Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road”. In their write-up of the song, they said this:

      As Old Town Road first started to climb Billboard’s country songs chart, the US country establishment closed ranks, excluding the song from the tally. Lil Nas X responded with philosophical grace (“I think people are just ready for something different, a change within the world”), but the move stands as a grim faux pas that seems racist and looks even more embarrassing in hindsight.

      The story about its exclusion at that embedded link starts with this:

      A debate about what country music sounds like – or more accurately, looks like – is shaping around Lil Nas X, a nineteen-year-old black musician from Atlanta. His song Old Town Road was removed from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs last week, with the chart compilers claiming it wasn’t country enough. According to Chart Data, an account that collates data from Billboard and other sources, the song would have gone to number one on this week’s Billboard Hot Country Songs chart had it not been removed.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Lil Nas X is the kind of country I grew up hearing, like Robert Johnson rural blues lineage, fused with Nashville, fused with hip-hop now. The backlash against his being excluded from the country charts prefigured, I believe, the diversity of the protests now.

    • Doug Fir says:

      Old family friend and his band were playing some really old time folk at a festival in Nashville during another highly fraught era in US politics. Some in the audience took exception to the… less than enlightened…. lyrics. None other than Odetta walked up on stage and gave the audience shit. I would argue that there’s a subtle but important difference between recognizing good music from a fucked up time and expounding the values of that time.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      I think there’s more of problem in the existence of “Southern Gospel” as a subgenre and it’s not good that its “Hall of Fame” is inside Dollywood.

      I do think that a lot of good country music is about a particular kind of white working-class experience but it is drawn narrowly, not to exclude but to be specific. And when it’s good it’s franker about being white and poor than most ideological takes, because it acknowledges the kind of things — family breakdown, addiction, incarceration — that have become cheap tropes to define black Americans. Before white moral scolds started bemoaning black mothers and fatherless sons, white country musicians were singing about their daddies being in jail. The sanitization of country music tells on itself.

    • Skilly says:


      I really enjoy MCC and her performances. I would urge you to look carefully at her writing credits. She picks very good songs to perform. As much as I enjoy MCC, Lucinda Williams is the real deal. Epic singer songwriter. She finally got the recognition she deserved after “”car wheels on a gravel” road was released.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt. But Williams writes more great songs. She’s my Wonder Woman, musically speaking. Back when I was still performing I would down a shot of Jack Daniels and just imagine I was her. It mostly worked, though sometimes another shot of Jack accompanied me.

      • ghsfan says:

        I need to stand up for MCC: she writes or co-writes almost all her songs. On my favorite album, Stones in the Road, she single-handedly wrote every song.

    • Peterr says:

      I’d add “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and “John Doe #24” to that list. Saw her in concert long ago, and absolutely loved it.

  12. scribe says:

    Not the biggest fan of today’s country, which strikes me mostly as corporatized pablum presented with a twang, like you might put some salsa next to your scrambled eggs at breakfast. Cranked out of a factory by artists who, like many musicians today, get picked by the A&R people for their looks and Q factor more than their chops, then canned and shipped out to wherever.

    Onnn the other hand, go back to the days of 40 or 50 years ago, the Cashes, Flatts, Buck Owens and the list goes on and on, where the “Western” was an integral part of the music. Where the writing and performance was not only informed by but a product of the pain and hardship of all the various flavors those songs and artists told us about. About the human condition.

    Citing Mark Twain’s epigram “if you need me to give an hour’s speech I’ll be there tonight but if you need only 3 minutes it’ll take me a month”. I’d note that the recent PBS series on country music was possibly the best dive into it I’ve ever seen/heard. But I’ll go on.

    There’s very little of the kind of music from those golden days being written or performed today. Music that says something about the realities of the human condition. (To be sure, there was a lot of crap back then – “Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life” was a country song. Set that aside.) I’ll give you an example. In the 40 years (!) since that song came out the only cover I could find was one by Emmylou Harris. (Which I now MUST listen to.) (Which is really worth the listen.) Today’s artists would recognize that that song won’t sell and, if they didn’t recognize it, their management surely would. Compare, if you will, “You learn to sleep at night with the price you pay … where the dark of night, holds back the light of the day” to “I love my truck, my dog and my wife” or whatever generic “country” lyric might pop up on the radidio.

    There’s a reason the artists from back then are still remembered, played, and playing. They were not interchangeable parts coughing up a couple years’ worth of background music to be replaced by the next hot thing. Or, as someone wiser once said “good art lasts”.

    And part of the good art is in the tools. Someone upthread went on about this picker or that being the good, better or best. I’m willing to bet that the best group of pickers anyone can pull together are the artists relations people at the C.F. Martin factory. They’re the folks who sit down with artists who want a new guitar, jam some, figure out what the artist wants and get it made. Those guitars are made alongside all the production guitars, all coming from one factory in a small Pennsylvania town, a company founded, owned and operated by the same family in the same place since 1833. It’s a truism that, if you’re really, really good in wood shop in the local high school, you might just get a pointer toward a job there. Their site’s worth a visit, e.g., as is the list of current artists (Including Willie). It’s about the soul of music, as true country and western is about the soul of the artists and the land where they live.

    One more thing, going back to the classic rock discussions of weeks past. A friend IRL pointed out to me something of an aurochs roaming the otherwise barren steppes of today’s radio dial. A real, genuine classic/prog rock station which has been playing that music since the early 70s. WBLM . After this friend pointed me at their livestream I found they’re riffling through the entire library, not just the playlist, A to Z which, I’m told, takes the better part of 4 weeks to accomplish. Have fun listening – it’s what I’m listening to.

  13. gmoke says:

    If you ever get a chance to see Willie Nelson live, do it. He is a world class musician and his guitar playing is world music – not just country, not just Western, but jazz, microtonal, Persian, Indian, African, anything he’s ever heard and liked.

    You probably won’t get the chance because she’s officially stopped touring but Dolly Parton is also someone to see. She is not only a great singer and performer but also a major songwriter. If she doesn’t get the Gershwin Award it’s a crime.

    Both Dolly and Willy also obviously LOVE to perform for people.

    Dolly made two albums with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris as The Trio. Doesn’t get much better than that.

    Here’s Jimmie Rodgers with Louis Armstrong and his then wife, Lil Hardin, performing “Blue Yodel #9,” an early example of cross-racial country right at the very beginning of the genre:

    And here’s Pops with Johnny Cash a few (ahem) years later doing the same tune:

    • bmaz says:

      Last saw Willie at the Celebrity Theater here. Not sure if 2018 or 2019. Not a long show, maybe 1.25 hours? But absolutely the same old incredible live Willie.

      And, yes, he is really all that if you have never seen him. If you get the chance, GO!

    • Trent says:

      Agree on Willie. Saw him with Kris several years ago. Jimmy and Rosalyn were in the front row. He pulled them up onstage for the encore “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Yeah it was that cool.

  14. vvv says:

    There’s so many, but for me country needs at the least good songs, and great players, or the opposite. Here’s some faves:

    Billy Joe Shaver – Awesome live, and his son Eddie, RIP, was a terrific guitarist

    Jason & the Scorchers – Hard Rockabilly/Country Punk, saw many times and I so wanna see ’em again – Warner Hodges is like the EVH of country guitar

    Geo Strait – saw at Soldier Filed with an ex from Texas (true, that), where he is about a saint. It was … interesting. (90’s Country wrote for him, also)

    The DeRailers – I was friend with their touring steel player, saw ’em a couple times, fun and authentic

    The New Duncan Imperials – Chicago humor/country, one of their tunes begins, “Butt stickin’ to the seat …” I used to be good friends (represented their record label years ago) with ’em, including Pigtail Dick

    The Beat Farmers/Country Dick Montana – a OK sorta country/garage band until they unleashed Country Dick (RIP) a true original he was

    Georgia Satellites/Dan Baird – raucous on record, and they all play with various other well-knowns

    The Bottle Rockets – from MS, I’m internet friends with their producer – terrific, funny lyrics and great players

    The Long Riders – kinda Paisley Underground country (above-referenced producer is part of ’em)

    Gram Parsons – ask keef, and The Byrds, Poco and even The Eagles

    Emmy Lou Harris – wonderful, seminal on her own, and with Gram, just amazing

    Drive By Truckers (Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley solo, also) – currently the USA’s best band, in all ways

    Jason Isbell – formerly of DBT, Americana, a modern treasure (pretty close to Prine)

    Amanda Shires – Jason’s wife, a power on her own, in the Highwomen, and with her husband Jason Isbell a worthy comparison to Gram and Emmy Lou – but more equal

    Hags – a personal fave, and all us liberals need to look up the real story behind “Okie from Muskogee”

    Jimmy Webb – not necessarily country, but he wrote most of the hits you know from Glen Campbell – “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and Wichita Lineman” are masterpieces

    Joe Ely – great Texan troubadour-type

    Alajendro Escovedo – great Texan troubadour-type, writes a lot of/from his Mexican heritage, also

    Lucinda Williams is a personal fave – I buy all her stuff, and she always has really fine musicians on her records, sometimes including jazz guys

    Victoria Wiliams – rather unique, if “Crazy Mary” was her only good song, I’d still cite her

    John Hiatt – Americana, but sometimes just so country, and always worthy

    Jay Farrar/Son Volt- started (I mean, he actually did with Tweedy, see Uncle Tupelo)

    • gmoke says:

      Jimmy Webb collaborated with Ray Bradbury on a musical version of “Dandelion Wine” which, I believe, never made it to Broadway. I’m betting there were some diamonds in that show that should be unearthed.

      Here’s one song that’s surfaced

    • Skilly says:

      Great point about americana. The distinction between americana and country and roots rock are is very difficult for me. The AMA defines it as, “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various mostly acoustic American roots music styles, including country, roots rock, folk, gospel and bluegrass resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.” For me it is is more akin to the quote of obscenity by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”
      It is the last part, “world apart from the pure forms of genre upon which it draws that causes trouble for me. There is no pure form to any music of which I am aware. Having lived outside of the country for stretches of my life I can say without hesitation that “American music” is a real thing and I know it when I hear it.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      Terrific list. Thanks for highlighting George Strait. I have a special spot in my heart for him because he is an actual cowboy. In addition to being an outstanding singer, the guy is an awesome team roper.

  15. e.a.f. says:

    Love how Lori Morgan sings. :George Strait, Brooks and Dunn, Rodney Crowell still is an amazing artist and doesn’t get enough credit, Keith Whitley will break your heart with some of his songs as will Vern Gosdin. Ricky Van Shelton great artist.

    I can remember listening to C. & W. back in the mid 1970s as I drove through a lot of the B.C. interior–ranch country. Then it was back to the urban life and it would listen to some off and on during the 80s and 90s, but it has been the last few years, while looking back on my life and listening to these singers and their songs, Dolly Parton, one of the most amazing talents in the music industry,

    In Canada we had Ian Tyson and still have Gordon Lightfoot with his amazing voice which can still make you cry. If you ever have heard k.d. Lang since Hallaluah–the O’s in Vancouver–you’d think you’d died and gone to heaven. Anne Murray and Snow bird,

    For some one who was an opera buff, C. & W. always had my attention. As a former spousal unit told me back in the 1970s, there were only two groups of singers who could do it live, on time, on key, first take, opera singers and C. & W. singers.

    I can recall hearing C. & W. first in the 1950s at a neighbour’s house and really liking the music. there are some songs, which just can over whelm you, when you look back at life sort of like some opera arias. Pavorotti’s non shall sleep and Dolly Partons, I will always love you. Don’t know which is more emotional……but both are to be played at my funeral.

    Thank you for doing this C. & W/. article.

    • rosalind says:

      Rodney is fabulous. The last live show I saw pre-Covid. Just finished his autobiography “Chinaberry Sidewalks”. tough tough read, but what a childhood. violence and alcohol and music and loving and poverty.

    • soothsayer says:

      e.a.f, I see you are Canadian? I grew up in Canada, but happy to be living in the states a long time now enjoying the opportunity to hear so many great live acts down here. Love your shout out to Gordon Lightfoot and KD Langs Hallelujah. I enjoyed Bands such as “Blue Rodeo”, remember them?

      For me, one of Blue Rodeos that I enjoy is – “Try”

      I also agree with others, thank you for this thread on music, there are some great music memories posted here.

      “Country music is three chords and the truth.”
      – Harlan Howard

      • e.a.f. says:

        Blue Rodeo, thanks for the memory and yes I do remember them. some times you still hear them and they are out and about.

        Yes, that is one thing the U.S.A. is good for, their C. & W. music. Its about all I would get a passport for. I always wanted to hear the Charlie Daniels band live doing the Devil came to Georgia. They were to have been in Washington State this summer and I was seriously thinking of getting that passport but then we got COVID. He might be worth 4 weeks of isolation though, if I was sure I wouldn’t get the virus. I’d like to see Bob Seager once more also, but he only performs from what I can see in the U.S.A.

        • AlfaNovember says:

          Corb Lund is from Alberta – He’s keeping the roughneck outlaw cowboy sound alive. Check him out.

    • e.a.f. says:

      the song, I’ve heard many times by a variety of singers, but never by Suzy Boggus. Great voice. Will have to add some of her material to the truck CD collection,.

    • joejim says:

      I admire Tammy Wynette with her simple, unaffected, clean voice. I saw her at the Felt Forum in NYC in the early 80s.One of the perks of New York is that performers often pull out the stops and give their best performances there, for the critical reviews among other things, but it was pretty clear early on that she wasn’t bent on impressing us. Two huge tour buses was parked outside and she announced early in the show that it something like her 290th day on the road. She seemed and probably was tired and the show felt very canned, the patter was stale and almost every song was done in a medley of her greatest hits, so musically it was a little disappointing, but still neat to see the legend. Would love to see her on her own with a guitar at some place like Carnegie Hall.

      There’s an excellent and intelligent documentary”Loretta Lynn Still a Country Girl.” Fascinating woman with a long career. respectfully interviewed and filmed. She mentors a young singer, and you get to see that there are overflowing boxes of handwritten songs she keeps under her huge bed. She’s always writing, I think the total was something like 5000 published or so.

      Nick Cave does a bit of punk country. His cover of the Cash anthem Mercy Seat is pretty powerful.

      • vvv says:

        Me, I would dig a Nick Cave thread. I believe he covers Ram Jam’s “Oh, Black Betty Bam a Lam” on that album, also.

    • jerryy says:

      Some of his early stuff (Ice Water, etc.) could be tossed into the country category — he was still being influenced by his mentor Mississippi John Hurt, a blues – country musician. So sure, why not, after all Mark Knopfler (rock and roll) worked with Chet Atkins (country) to give us “Neck and Neck” an album played on both genre’s radio stations.

      Yup, Leo is brilliant!

      • John Paul Jones says:

        A name from the past, for sure. I saw him once, but dang if I can remember when or where. Early 1970s, but the rest is gone. Haven’t thought of him for literally decades. What a player.

      • John K says:

        Bmaz, as a guitar aficionado, I think you’ve been somewhat remiss not to have mentioned Mr. Atkins in your list of favorites.
        My early listening years had me subjected to my older brothers’ choices which were somewhat typical of early sixties musical tastes. The Lovin Spoonful had a song called Nashville Cats, which, in spite of my rock and roll bloodlines, led me to eventually explore country music in search of good guitar players.
        Wal, thar’s diamins in that thar coal mine!
        My early favorite was Roy Clark (thank you Hee Haw). As talented as he was, he seems like someone who practiced and practiced and practiced until he became great. Chet Atkins blends into his instrument like he was born with it.
        Check this out:

  16. foggycoast says:

    y’all have mentioned many i would as well. i’ll list a few i havent seen mentioned that arent exactly in the country mainstream:
    Louvin Brother (i do “I Wish You Knew” in one of my bands)
    Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
    Flying Burrito Brothers
    Norman Blake
    Guitar wizards: Jerry Reed and Danny Gatton
    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      If you want to get down to the Nitty Gritty, you can’t leave out Pure Prairie League. Amy bets on that?

      Amy, what you wanna do?
      I think I could stay with you
      For a while, maybe longer if I do

      Linda Ronstadt has two Academy of Country Music awards and a Country Music Association award.

  17. dakine01 says:

    Having grown up in Kentucky, it was always difficult to avoid country. Then when I was at WKU in pre-massacre Bowling Green, we were 60 miles from Nashville, so a lot of country influences all around.
    I’m a big Willie fan but it took a bit to take off.
    I’ve been in love with Emmylou Harris for nearly 50 years.
    Asleep at the Wheel makes some great swing music.

    And don’t forget the genre bridging “country rock” of Marshall Tucker, The Outlaws, Pure Prairie League, Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco etc

    • bmaz says:

      Well, remember, the original singer from Pure Prairie League, Craig Fuller, ended up for a good long while as the front man for Little Feat after Lowell George died. And they were still amazingly good.

      • DrFunguy says:

        I was not fortunate enough to see the original Little Feat, one of my great regrets. I saw the later lineup open for Grateful Dead and they were outstanding. So tight! I recall comparing their act to a modern racecar versus the old fifties pickup truck that was the Dead- reliable but needing to run awhile to get all four jugs turning over…

  18. Peterr says:

    For Country Relationship songs, Reba McEntire is hard to top. “Rumor Has It” or “Just Like Them Horses” or the more recent “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain” . . .

    She opens her heart and invites you in.

  19. I Never Lie and am Always Right says:

    Best concerts I’ve attended in this genre include Willie Nelson, Norman Blake, and Merle Haggard.

    I got turned on to Norman Blake many years ago. Just fantastic. Always my first choice of this type of guitar music. (Slack key guitar is my favorite type of music.)

    Don’t forget Patsy Cline. I saw the musical about her life. Great show.

    • bmaz says:

      Whoa, wait, what is the musical doc about Patsy Cline’s life? I remember there was a movie I never saw, but got great reviews….Is it that or something different?

      And, as I said above, Willie does not play anywhere near as long as he used to, but, damn, he still has it in full.

          • Kim Kaufman says:

            There is a Patsy Cline movie, “Sweet Dreams,” starring Jessica Lange. I’m sure it’s rentable on-line.

            There are also a bunch of Willie Nelson movies that were all commercial duds but I loved them all.

            I grew up in NYC and never heard country music until I was in my 20s and living in Boston. I loved it immediately. I recently watched Ken Burns’ “Country Music” series on PBS and it made me love – and have respect for – it all the more.

  20. jo6pac says:

    Black Jack Wayne
    Merl Haggard
    Saw Willie about 10 times in the Bay Area. He was living here to pay off a debt. I even went to a private show of his that was way to much.

    Wonderful lists from everyone.

    O/T but how about a day on how you think your NFL team did with draft and free agency.

  21. DrFunguy says:

    Bluegrass blends into country blends into country blues and folk and I love them all, some artists, some times. I especially like the crossover folks like Grisman (Dawg music), Bela Fleck – country meets bop on electric banjo and Yo-yo Ma et al. Appalchian Waltz etc.
    Jorma Kaukonen got a Grammy nomination for his Blue Country heart.
    I’m also partial to the ‘original’ country of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.
    Some may not be aware that K.D. Lang got her start in country…
    Just a few random thoughts.

    • Rayne says:

      I think one of my favorite crossover pieces is Quarter Chicken Dark performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolinist Chris Thile And violinist Stuart Duncan, released in their The Goat Rodeo Sessions album.

      Can listen to it in this NPR Tiny Desk Concert video, the first cut:

      Speaking of NPR Tiny Desk Concerts, another crossover I’ve enjoyed is Caroline by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers — last cut on this video:

      Have nearly worn out my copy of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ UFO Tofu. Especially fond of Sex in the Pan from that album.

      Weirdly, I never think of myself as a fan of banjo but of mandolin which is tuned like violin (which I used to play).

      • Old Antarctic Explorer says:

        Saw Edgar Meyer, Yo Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor at the Oak Ridge, TN HS auditorium in the late 90s. Meyer was from Oak Ridge and the Oak Ridge schools have one of the largest string programs in the country. The kids wanted him to show up and give a concert for them and asked his mom. She said she would ask, but Edgar showed up with Ma an O’Connor also and it was a great time.

  22. Pablo in the Gazebo says:

    This thread has provided the all time mother-load of ear worms, I may never sleep again.
    I know a fellow who took it upon himself to play all of his CDs on his car player in alphabetical order. It took a long, long time – that’s how I feel.

    • bmaz says:

      Hey, and I did not even post Kiss An Angel Good Morning by Mr. Pride. And I really thought about it.

      • elevator says:

        Hey bmaz. After reading your posts I believe you would enjoy two good friends of mine, unfortunately both have passed, neither was a commercial success, or wanted to be, but admired by their peers such as Willie, Waylon and Kris. They both have many songs on youtube. Check out Larry Jon Wilson and Ron Kimble.
        Jerry Jeff was a good buddy of mine for many years and he was associated with a song by Ray Wiley Hubbard, which is appropriate for our current situation….” Up Against the Wall You Redneck Mothers”

        • bmaz says:

          Jerry Jeff I have seen a couple of times; once at a honky tonk, once at a real concert venue. Both times awesome. Also, if you love Jerry Jeff, check out the late and great Jerry Riopelle.

          • AlfaNovember says:

            Fans of Jerry Jeff should also check out Todd Snider, who is himself a big fan of JJW. Todd released an album of JJW covers a few years back, but his true magnum opus is a fan-created bootleg called “Tales from Moondawg’s Tavern”.


            • bmaz says:

              I will take a listen to that. Here is a good story, I had been to a Jerry Jeff show before I got really introduced to Jerry Riopelle. I thought Riopelle was covering Red Ball Texas Flyer from JJW the first couple of times I heard him play it. Nope, Riopelle wrote it with his friend Stuart Margolin, who played Jim Rockford’s side kick “Angel” on the Rockford Files.

              I hope Jim White does not see any of this, lest he go into Rockford Files nostalgia.

            • bmaz says:

              Also, check this out. I was googling around and found a song by Jerry Riopelle’s longtime sidekick, backup guitarist and singer. Guess age is gonna get us, but I knew her very long ago. She is pretty damn good. I had forgotten about her work with Combo Deluxe, but she is pretty darn decent.

      • e.a.f. says:

        Have that on my Charlie Pride CD. Love that song. If only marriages worked out that well. Charlie Pride a great talent, interesting life also. Used to listen to him as I was heading up to the Hope Princeton Highway early in the morning to go to the Interior of B.C.

        I like listening to the Mavericks also. sort of remind me of Roy Orbison.

  23. posaune says:

    15-yo son loves Johnny Paycheck’s “Drinkin and Drivin that Woman right out of my Mind.”

  24. John Lehman says:

    Lyle Lovett
    Used to think ‘meh’ just another West Texas country singer than he shows up in Portland at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with his band and accompanied by the Oregon Symphony
    What a show. Along with his great music the guy really knows how to handle an audience. Loved the show.

    • Peterr says:

      I’ve led some continuing ed teaching with pastors, and have used his song “Church” when talking about worship, which ends like this:

      And the moral of this story
      Children it is plain but true
      God knows if a preacher preaches long enough
      Even he’ll get hungry too

      It is 100% true that if a preacher gets into a competition with the choir, the preacher will lose 100% of the time.

  25. jerryy says:

    Maybe you can one day do a music thread about how an artist in one genre influences other genres. (Since this Is country music) For example:

    Hank Williams wrote

    “Lonesome Highway” — Tom Petty (rock and roll)
    “Cold, Cold Heart” — Norah Jones (jazz)
    “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” — Cowboy Junkies (alternative)
    “Move It On Over” — George Thorogood (blues)

  26. nehoa says:

    Kinda porto-country…Woody Guthrie. He was antifa before it became fashionable. My apologies is the picture causes problems.

    [No problem, got you covered. /~Rayne]

    • John Lehman says:

      This land is your land this land is my land….

      The lyrics are iconic and fascism’s destiny is death.

      Definitely country an OKey dust bowl refugee

  27. Owen McNamara says:

    Thanks JerryY. You reminded me that he did Pamela Jones by Tom T. Hall on Ice Water as well. Thanks for the reply.

  28. vvv says:

    Loretta Lynn’s *Van Lear Rose* album, produced by Jack White, is amazing cross-generational country:
    ht tps://
    White does this kinda thing so well, like with Margo Price:
    ht tps://

    The Rubin-produced Cash stuff:
    ht tps://
    ht tps://

    How come nobody mentioned Cowboy Junkies?
    Carolina Chocolate Drops/Rhianna Gibbons?

    The latter ones are more Americana, although the former is Canadian (highly reco’d live) and the latter Appalachian, but there’s lotsa country in there …

    When I was a kid, my moms was into Lou Rawls and Charlie Rich (now she likes U2) …

  29. Kick the darkess says:

    When I was young and arguably only a bit more foolish than now I’d close up a friday night at this place called Group Therapy in Five Points, Columbia, SC. Last call often preceded by David Allen Coe’s anthem “i got drunk the day my mama got out of prison”. glass banging sounds and speakers popping. One such night somebody turned me onto Lucinda Williams, just this amazing American songwriter. Puts me in mind of Junebug vs Hurricane in “2 Kool 2 Be Forgotten” re principals on this site. Seeing as how dogs’ lives are the true measures of Real Time.

  30. pseudonymous in nc says:

    My inclination is always alt/Americana: I have an infinite amount of time for Gillian Welch / Dave Rawlings Machine, vs radio Nashville. Also, Dolly. But I’ve got better at picking out what’s good, and understanding the function of country music as songs of hardship and frailty and dissolution and redemption. Bluegrass and mountain music has “Saturday night songs” and “Sunday morning songs” and that’s where I go.

    WNCW — dubyaenceedubya — does ‘Country Gold’ every Sunday morning and it’s an education:

    • vvv says:

      FWIW, eh, it’s “”, what is sometimes the same as (and sometimes seemingly more rock than) Americana which is sometimes mebbe more folky than
      They are nebulous and inclusive and even incestuous definitions, but the “alt” is what brings country closer to Americana.
      And just to be even more pedantic and ridiculous, an alt.Americana band might be, say The Blasters or Social Distortion or The Rev. Horton Heat or The Supersuckers or even The Meat Puppets, except I think they all predate and/or (in the case of The Blasters) might have inspired the label, “Americana”.
      Sorry; hope you laughed.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Yeah, I meant alt as a shorthand for, and more broadly was thinking about that part of the spectrum that leans eastwards and eventually blends into bluegrass and Appalachian folk vs the kind that leans Western.

        It’s interesting to hear some Appalachian raw edges reappear as you head further west. And I mean, you could call the late David Roback an alt.western guitarist, all slides and arpeggios on open tunings.

        • vvv says:

          Totally under-rated writer/arranger and performer, that guy. Rain Parade was good, but no Dream Syndicate. But when Opal started with DS’s Kendra Smith, and then he joined up with Hope Sandoval in Mazzy Star (such a crush I had) … the reverberant sounds of fading into you, topped only, perhaps, by Cowboy Junkies, because Michael is an unsurpassed writer, and Margo.
          But yeah, Roback dying in Feb (cancer) was another in the seemingly huge number of recent musical losses.
          Appalachian, yeah? I never thought of that … yeah.

  31. Stephen Calhoun says:

    Props to the women country singers songwriters of the last decade or so that have offset the horrendous so-called bro-country.

    Delightful and more: Eileen Jewell, Joy Williams, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Miranda Lambert, The Highwomen, Ashley Monroe, Sarah Louise; on and on. For me the core of contemporary country is in their good hearts and at times renegade hands.

    • Ern says:

      Glad to see someone mention Eilen Jewell, one my favorites. Don’t think I’ve heard another modern vocalist sing it with old time style like she does.

    • jerryy says:

      You might like the music of Toni Price, Angela Strehli, Sarah Brown, Marcia Ball, Barbara Lynn, Sue Foley, Lavelle White, and Lou Ann Barton. They were featured a lot on the show “Austin City Limits”. They have a sample album / cd called “Antone’s Women” which is pretty decent, I believe it is still in print.

  32. Eureka says:

    Shout out to Ronnie Milsap. He’s got lots of good songs, but (perhaps best-known) Smoky Mountain Rain, from 1980, became even more meaningful after the devastating wildfires of 2016. If you know the lay of the land — and the song is written like you’re riding in the truck with him — it also evokes Dolly (“Said he’s goin’ as far as Gatlinburg”; she’s from Sevierville, has her park in Pigeon Forge). He and Dolly lately rerecorded it as a duet, with adjusted lyrics, but it’s missing some of the original.

    For a song instead that’ll knock your socks off, Dolly from 1994 (Smoky Mountain Memories):


  33. Ginevra diBenci says:

    I have lived my whole life haunted by Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”

    • e.a.f. says:

      I still play that song while driving. Breaks your heart. reminds me once upon a time you could find someone you’d lost, but the way some areas go up and down and buildings and bars go up and down, its a tough haul…………,

      • bmaz says:

        It is an excellent song. There are a lot like that. Important, and yet long forgot. Maybe that is a post for the future.

  34. Tom says:

    This is a little OT and certainly more Western than Country but I’ve always had a soft spot for the film scores of the Ukrainian-born Dimitri Tiomkin, particularly his music for such films as “Red River”, “The Big Sky”, and “High Noon”. Tiomkin also used his scores as the basis for popular songs, the best known likely being “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'” from “High Noon”, not to mention “Rawhide” from the TV series of the same name. And yes, “The Green Leaves of Summer” from “The Alamo”.

    My nomination for the weirdest western song title would be “Cleanin’ My Rifle and Dreamin’ of You”, but I guess sometimes a long gun is just a long gun.

  35. Max404 says:

    I try to stay on bmaz’s good side, ’cause I’m petrified of getting barked at by him, reduced to quivering blob should I make a mistake, say something stupid, or just annoy him. That is why I butter him up with stories about the Superstition Mountains in the 50’s (thanks bmaz for the tip to the book “The Killer Mountains” by Curt Gentry: I found it, read it, enjoyed it immensely, especially the exaggerations about falling “thousands” of feet off Weaver’s Needle, which perhaps rises 1000 feet above the canyon floor, but whatever, lots of heads got broken there over the years), or strategically placed memories of Schreiner’s German Sausages on North Central Avenue. I remember adverts for Mr. Lucky’s on KRUX radio as we were tooling around North Central, although 32nd Avenue was way too far west for my group of N. Central dudes. Although the west side was on the way to California, it was like travelling to Oklahoma for us near-east siders.

    Problem is, I, we, hated country music. It was a side of Arizona we just couldn’t stomach. Since my family came from eastern Connecticut just after the war, meaning I grew up with a mean New England accent in the household, as a 7 year old I got unending grief from the Oklahoma and Texas-originating kids on the block, who made merciless fun of my inability to pronounce the “r” at the end of words like “car”. Only my older brother, future criminal defender too, defended me from such country-music loving guys, guys whose fathers were named things like “Skeeter” or “Bud”.

    Problem was, country music meant rabid anti-communist in the petri dish of Goldwaterism and all that led to. I could not abide it. Our Democratic – Liberal dinner table discussions had to be kept inside our house. Between us and communists there was no difference, for Skeeter and Bud and their kids.

    So I have only to thank bmaz for this posting, which led me to this video:

    of Doug Kershaw fiddling the Orange Blossom Special.

    Now that is country music I can dig. Too bad my prejudices kept me away from this stuff for a lifetime. Never too old, I guess.

    • bmaz says:

      Lol, first off, if you are not trolling this blog, and you have not ever done that, at least that I recall, I am nowhere near scary. We still have a vibrant comment section, while many of our old school sister blogs when we started do not. It is because we somewhat jealously protect the comment space.

      Glad you read Killer Mountains, it is a quick and decent read. Weaver’s Needle is a little taller than that, but it is not all that hard to climb depending on the approach. I’ve done it, but that was enough decades ago I won’t say how many. Safe to say was quite a long time ago.

      The Superstitions really are pretty awesome though.

  36. Overshire says:

    Lordy, what a pile of memories y’all brought to my Sunday morning! I grew up on my dad’s Tennessee Ernie Ford & Hank Snow, then met bluegrass when we moved to Nashville in 1970. Saw some wonderful shows back when the Exit/In still had tables, chairs, and a TINY stage, including Chuck Mangione, Roy Buchanan, Papa John Creech, and New Riders of the Purple Sage. Incredibly intimate setting. The New Riders’ pedal steel wouldn’t fit in the stage, so they set him up on the floor, within reach of our front-row table. We just naturally kept his beer glass full from our pitcher, and when the early show was over, the manager came by and told us to sit back down, cause the band told him we were staying for the second show. That glass never did get empty!
    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the old gym at MTSU is as fine a memory as seeing The Who in the new gym next door. They would play until they just couldn’t play anymore.
    For any acoustic music fan, Strength in Numbers is a must listen- Mark O’Connor, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, & Jerry Douglas as a supergroup of acknowledged bluegrass masters, playing no bluegrass at all. I don’t think I’ve ever played it for a musician who didn’t run out and get their own copy.
    But the best live performance I’ve ever seen, hands down, has to be k d lang, the night she finally realized her childhood dreams of playing the Ryman Auditorium. She’s not just a great voice and a great writer, she’s a true all around performer. Damn shame Nashville had no idea how to market her when she was here.
    New Grass Revival still ranks high in my pantheon, too. John Cowan may have the only set of pipes out there who can stand with k d.
    Don’t skip Sam Bush’s introduction, it’s worth it.
    Thanks again, all, for brightening this otherwise horrific week!

  37. Christine Langhoff says:

    Buck Owens and the Buckaroos were my parents’ “band”. My dad joined the Navy to see the world from his tiny Texas town of Yoakum, but by the age of 31 was married with 6 kids and living in Boston, where my mom was born. C & W music was a bit of exotica in the city of my childhood. One of my favorite memories is of my dad sitting at the kitchen table of Saturday mornings singing along to a local radio station that played the greatest hits for a few hours. Buck, Johnny Cash, Willie, “As I Walked Down the Streets of Laredo”, “All My Ex-es live in Texas” (for obvious reasons), and “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail” were heavily rotated. Such innocent times!

  38. Genuine Hippie says:

    Merl Travis, y’all. Wrote 16 Tons & Dark as a Dubgeon & Smoke That Cigarette & Divorce Me COD & was an amazing picker & designed a solid body electric guitar before Les Paul did.

    (Don’t know how I’ve identified myself here in the past. Sorry! I rarely comment. But I have a permanent name now.)

  39. Trent says:

    For all of you that gave up on manufactured country music the last 20-30 years, check out Sturgill Simpson. He’s for real.

    • vvv says:

      Big fan here; I think he’s kinda moved on from country (his first couple were really that) to a much more expansive thing. Wonderful writer, arranger and seemingly a cool guy. The soundscapes he creates, even on his last record which is his most rock, are quite something. I like his Nirvana cover, also.

  40. quebecois says:

    Hey bmaz, thanks for this.

    I can say that my only exposure to country and western was 60’s television, remember seeing some exceptional guitarist, banjo players and slide guitar wizardry.

    After seeing Crazy (, I delved into patsy Cline’s music. Surprised by the complexity of the writing.

    That film shook me to my core, had met the director of this film in the late seventies, the suicide scene is about one of our then mutual friend.

    I think that what Johny Cash did with Reznor’s song is amazing artistry.

    Life is good, Covid would kill me if I contract it. Cancer is moving slowly to my lungs, trio of scans a year, we’ll know more in eight months. I have a rare form of cancer that can become quite aggressive. I’m trying to stay active while staying the fuck away from everyone else, I’m on my bike as much as I can, still struggling with different fears and what are my new covid responsibilities. All in all, i’m still in better shape than most men my age, that’s cool!

    Marcy is amazing. How secure is paypal? Thanks.

    • bmaz says:

      Oh, PayPal is secure enough. But we will be fine, just want to make sure you are. A lot of us are aging a little, and changing a bit too, but simply cannot take any more attrition. We have had more than enough of that here. So you keep fighting that cancer. And thank you.

    • Doug Fir says:

      Quebecois, glad to know you’re still on the right side of the grass!

      More “Trash Folk” than C & W, Lisa Lablanc is an amazing banjo player from La Belle Province who’s definitely worth a listen. Great lyrics and skilful, energetic playing:

      https ://
      (link broken with a [space] after https)

  41. Rapier says:

    Sort of a sentimental old fool pick. To the extent I thought of Marty Stuart at all I used to think of him a sort of a joke, the hair and outfits, and I don’t usually fall into the trap of dismissing country music stars just because they are country if they have the chops so I slighted him for too long. Of course one can’t say enough about Prine.

    • bmaz says:

      Hey, Marty Stuart, while maybe sporting the flashy suits and hair you note, can seriously play. The guy is really good.

  42. Mark Smeraldi says:

    A little obscure, but the band great speckled bird, which included Ian Tyson, is worth checking out

  43. Robin Harper says:

    First of all, thank you for an incredible post today…talk about lifting one’s spirits! And I’ve been reminded of music I haven’t thought about in ages. My dad was a huge C&W fan. One of his favorite singers was Hank Snow. I remember the only album he had of Mr. Snow was about trains…all the songs were stories about triains. I’ve often thought if Dad had been able in the 30s, he’d have hopped a train and run away…LOL!

    I searched and found one of his all time favorites on Youtube, “Wabash Cannonball”. I can still see him, sitting in his chair, feet up on the ottoman, toes tapping the air to the beat, a smile on his face. So…for Daddy…

    Thanks again for such an awesome afternoon!

  44. Ern says:

    One of the best country shows I’ve seen was about a year ago with Radney Foster, formerly of Foster and Lloyd.

  45. AlfaNovember says:

    Billy Strings is an amazing player; his “early work” (as a teenager) is more traditional old-time & bluegrass, now as a mid-twenty-something he’s pushing boundaries in interesting ways. All of it is virtuoso playing, and I’m looking forward to more great music from him.

  46. vvv says:

    OK, I wanna mention a really problematic artist, whose music I love. One who has done Americana and hard rock and punk rock and chamber pop, sounded like Springsteen and the Smiths and the Eagles, and Petty in particular …
    Worked a lot with Norah Jones and Benmont Tench, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, The Cowboy Junkies, Ethan Johns, Willie Nelson, Jesse Malin (D-Generation) and even Tal Wilkenfeld and Lucinda Williams (who wrote “Shadows & Doubts” on her latest about him).
    Formed and played inna band with Caitlin Cary, did an entire cover album of Taylor Swift.
    Between 2005 and 2010 did seven (7!) awesome records (I like *Jacksonville City Nights* the best).
    Great player and writer, performer and singer and currently and rightfully anathema to the woke.
    Ryan Adams.

  47. Sambucus says:

    Been recently “re-acclimated” to C&W thanks to Ken Burns fantastic documentary on same. Forgot how dear it was; when I was very young in the early 1960’s listening to KFOX in LA while driving everywhere with my great-uncle. I didn’t know it at the time, but my Uncle had some serious connections to the roots… he was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1913 or 1914, and later told me of going to rodeos, when they were actual cowboy rodeos from among the surrounding ranches. I wish I would have asked him more questions when he was alive……

    That said, I was early on a huge fan of Jerry Jeff Walker and Asleep at the Wheel (more of a Bob Wills vibe, but great stuff) even after I began my decent into Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.

    • bmaz says:

      It is kind of a kick in the pants remembering the old days of AM radio…especially listening at night when it came in strong, isn’t it?

      • Sambucus says:

        Indeed. I drove frequently between LA and SLC, UT in the 80’s, and was amazed at what we could pick up. St Louis. Chicago. Washington State.

        Was so very cool.

  48. Sambucus says:

    Also forgot to mention Townes Van Zandt. He was so self-destructive, he could have been a rock musician. From a wealthy family, but decided he would rather be an alcoholic, vagabond musician. That, my friend, is dedication. To something.

    • vvv says:

      He and Guy Clarke are two of the guys Steve Earle collab’d with, did tribute albums to, and cites as seminal influence. Cowboy Junkies also followed TVZ, covered him (this song was written by him, for them):
      ht tps://

  49. Steveh46 says:

    There are a lot of great female country singers mentioned here but I have to put in a good word for the great Patty Loveless.
    This video is done with historic photos to illustrate the lyrics of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.”
    This woman has soul.
    When she appeared with Vince Gill at the George Jones tribute, they performed Gill’s song “Go Rest High on that Mountain” which Gill had written when his brother died. So emotional that the audience is moved to stand up as Gill is overcome with emotion.

    • bmaz says:

      Whoa. That is seriously good stuff, thank you.

      And hi Steveh46, welcome into comments, and please join in more often!

  50. Philip S. Webster says:

    Wow, that was an education. You all know so much about music. This is the only? place you can get an education in criminal law AND music.

    Well done indeed. Thank you.

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