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{Brad's Corner} November 2018: Reinventing the Needle

{Brad�s Corner}

What do you say when it’s over?  Don’t know if I should say anything at all.

So goes the plaintive statement at the heart of Clint Black’s classic “Better Man”.  And it kind of sums up the headspace I find myself in lately with this music scene.  It’s not the first time either.  Nothing has moved my needle in months.  At least not within the confines of “the scene”.  When a hardcore music fan can’t find much to get excited about, it’s time for some examination.  And that examination has proven that there isn’t much happening.  It’s like death by quicksand, being stuck on an escalator to nowhere.  Everything changes, yet stays the same.

The charge is being led by Koe, Parker and Read.  A youth movement that is super cool,  but comes off like a movie I’ve already seen.  Turnpike is in the Enquirer. PG is selling art.  Sure, the RRBs and WBs and JABs of the world plug along and are fantastic.  But, what’s new?  Not much.  CoJo and Ward are making national waves by releasing music that has more in common with Tracy Lawrence and Tracy Byrd than Willie and Jerry Jeff.  And, there’s nothing wrong with that.  It just doesn’t move me anymore.  I’m super proud and happy for those guys and everyone having success at the moment.

All that well-deserved success aside, most things that are exciting at the moment are happening beyond our scene.  Sturgill, Isbell, Tyler, Prine’s resurgence feel good and they’re a cousin to us…but they don’t live with us.  As Lefsetz has pontificated about countless times, true innovation is happening in tech, not music.  Music, in general, is rudderless and hasn’t seen innovation in 15 years or more.  It’s not just a Texas Country/Red Dirt problem either.  Every genre and every scene seems to be treading water waiting to find out what’s going to happen next.

There’s comfort in the curves and when there’s so much money at stake, it’s hard to take chances.  Even punk rock went corporate.  Maroon 5 is playing the Super Bowl and the biggest rock star on the planet at the moment is a former folk singer from Grapevine turned hip hop maven that provides monster commercial hooks amid the slurring. Vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor, but down in Texas we dig us some Blue Bell Rocky Road.

When was the last time you heard something original?  Something that made you say wow.  Something that made you hit repeat.  Rewind.  Replay.

The lead guitarist of a major alternative rock band one time told me, “There’s only so many notes, we’re all just reinventing the wheel.”  However it is reinvention that we are all seeking the most.  We look back to move ahead.  The most buzzworthy band of the moment (for better or worse) is Greta Van Fleet.  A Led Zeppelin ripoff that is finding success simply because the world is craving something fresh yet familiar.  Willie begat Jerry Jeff begat REK begat PG begat RRB begat JAB begat the present.  Someone, somewhere is creating that reinvention for our scene.  They will arrive when the time is right, and I will be waiting alongside all of you to bask in it. Whether they sound like Jerry Jeff 4.0 or something different, we’re in desperate need.  Artforms of all kinds suffer when stagnant.

Phil Pritchett once sang of country music, “it’s gone the way of Big Band as far as I can tell.”  If things don’t change course in the next few years, we’ll be saying the same thing about Texas Music as a whole.  It will be a relic, a super niche.  The splinters of it will live on forever.  Americana, folk, singer-songwriters.  Those things will never go away.  The question is how fresh will they sound?  And what will the audience look like?  In 5 years? 10? 20?

Time will tell and the needle awaits.


-I never want these columns to come off too ranty.  I’m not upset, just trying to pontificate, motivate and ruminate.  I don’t have any answers, but I have lots of questions.

-We’re undergoing some housecleaning around the site and updating things.  The Spambots invaded and we’re fighting them off.  A simple redesign and some upgrades are coming your way soon.

-I can’t remember a wetter fall.

-I’m headed to Vegas and Key West in successive months.  I was built to rage.

-Jason Garrett will stay on as head coach until Jerry draft’s his grandson.  I think it’s in the contract.

-My candidate loves America, Jesus and bbq.  Your candidate hates puppies, freedom and tacos.  You can flip it for whichever side you’re on.  Ready for the election to be over and the ads to be off my screens.  Please vote.  Please research it beyond the silly ads every candidate uses.

-I’ve found that taking old school yellow cabs, while not as convenient, is cheaper and more fun than Uber.

-This month’s recommended album:  Adam Hood – Somewhere In Between.  The Alabama troubadour has delivered another top to bottom banger.  You want groove, he’s got it.  You want soul, he’s got it.  You want country, he’s got it.  You want blues, he’s got it.  Most importantly, you want real…he’s got it.

-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain

Will Time Erase Our Heroes?

A few weeks back I had a conversation that rabbit-holed into food for thought that didn’t go down well. While music has always existed throughout human history, recorded music has been around for just over a century. It’s a blip on the celestial timeline, yet we’ve seen so many fabulous artists come and go, songs supposedly immortalized, and genres created. Going back just forty years, we’ve seen the advent of disco, punk, pop, hip-hop, rap, metal, grunge, techno, and sub-genres in between. All have one or more pages in history and all are pretty much derivatives of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. It got me thinking about how fortunate we are to live right now, where we (or our parents) saw most of the pioneers firsthand. Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Beatles, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Hendrix – all legends and all within a lifetime.

We’ve also witnessed every music distribution format that has practically existed.  The first piece of music my parents bought for me was on vinyl (Chipmunk Punk – Alvin did a damn good Tom Petty cover), my parents owned a stereo with both a record player and an 8-track. Since then we’ve seen cassettes, the music video, compact discs, and for now have settled in the digital age. Music no longer requires any physical space to own, heck, it doesn’t even require ownership. Thanks to streaming services, kids “music collections” will be nothing more than than playlists in the cloud. For us older folks, it’s strange and troubling, yet we embrace the benefits while lamenting the repercussions. Part of the magic of owning physical formats was having hard copies of artwork, lyrics, album notes, etc. Most of that is gone, and what is left is some artwork that might consume a few pixels on your phone screen. I still buy CDs, but my motivations are less about appreciating the music and its packaging and more about making sure an artist can feed their family. I’ll go to a show, buy the record, listen to it in my car CD player a couple of times, then put it away and just stream forevermore. Maybe that’s ok, the artist continues to get paid for my streams, but it feels less personal and more transactional. I’m still trying to process that.

We now have access to practically every piece of recorded music in history; and with the computing power at our fingertips, more are creating music than ever before. The worldwide catalog of bad music is exponentially growing, but each decade breeds its own legends and I can’t help but feel the number of great musicians we see will eventually outpace our ability to appreciate them all. How many decades away are we from “Hall of Fame overload” where the number or greats gets so large that true legends start being forgotten? Will there come a day where kids won’t know who The Rolling Stones are unless they take a music history class in college?  It’s hard to fathom but entirely possible.

My kid does the School of Rock thing, and as I sit here listening them learn “My Generation” by The Who, I can’t help but feel that absurd thought is completely rational. The school’s curriculum explicitly states that they want to “educate” kids on “the classics” and when they use that term they are referring to Hendrix, Clapton, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, The Stones, Sabbath, etc. Who will be on that curriculum 25, 50, or 100 years from now? We get exposed to music in limited ways – there is the media, your peers, and your parents. Parents play a huge role in that education and there will come a day where no one alive will have seen Bruce Springsteen perform other than on some YouTube archive. Our great-grandchildren might have to “study” The Boss like we studied Abe Lincoln, and with the continued de-emphasis of the fine arts in schools, even that might be a stretch. If that day ever comes God might send the asteroid.

(As a side conversation you can flip this entire thing on its head and start thinking about all the greats we’ve missed because there was no way to record them. Sure we’ve got the classical composers but who else?

Or you could get local. How will the songs and history of folks like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, TVZ, REK, etc. get passed down?

Talk amongst yourselves.)

Quick Riffs

Charlie Robison Will Remain The Life of the Party

The mandolin burst out of the busted speaker  like a semi going  a little too fast and passing you on a two lane road.  Just as that truck shakes the windshield and vibrates the steering wheel, the voice of Charlie Robison singing about his buddy back in ’81 shook me.  It was unmistakably different, undeniably […]

Charlie Robison: Reaction

Damn Charlie Robison. Don’t even know what to say. Life of the Party will always be in my top 10. Thank you for all the great songs and great hangs. Sad day for sure man. Enjoy retirement and all the fishing trips you can handle! — WadeBowen (@WadeBowen) September 25, 2018 @CharlieRobison Hey buddy. Thinking […]

Charlie Robison: A Playlist

1.  Loving County A tale spun so well and so fine that one almost forgets it involves a murder.  The diamonds sparkle and so does Charlie Robison’s songwriting on this showstopping song set in the least populous county in Texas amid an oil boom gone all sorts of wrong.  If Robert Earl Keen’s”Road Goes on […]