Country Music?

Preface: I’m not a journalist & I’m not pretending to be one. I barely consider myself a writer. Maybe late at night, a couple whiskeys in. Also, I’m going to be constantly referring to “country music” in this article. By that, I mean mainstream country.

I’ve read two articles this morning about country music, saving country music, not saving country music, Merle, Chris Stapleton, and more. One of the articles was by Kelly Dearmore of the Dallas Observer. The other was a response by Kyle Coroneos of Saving Country Music. If you haven’t read them, go read them. I’ll start off by saying that I enjoy both writers, & I understand that their styles & motives are very different. Dearmore usually has a more objective & lighthearted tone (as is appropriate for his Dallas Observer pieces), while Coroneos has a decidedly more subjective & serious tone – as he should (he runs a site called Saving Country Music). Now, you can go read both those articles and decide whatever you want – what’s accurate, what’s fabricated, whatever. But the main truth is this: everyone likes talking about “country music”. I’m no different. I enjoy the debate, and I think that discussing it is interesting.

Personally, I think country music is dead. I think it’s been dead for a few years. I feel this way because the genre is almost completely unrecognizable to me now, musically & lyrically. And I think the reason that the debate over country music is so interesting to me is because of the role it held in my life. I grew up listening to 680AM KKYX out of San Antonio. I still do when I’m in earshot. It was the soundtrack to my entire existence growing up. It’s in my blood, and that’s a very real statement that I make with the most upright sincerity. Anytime I hear Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms”, I involuntarily stop whatever I’m doing and listen. I don’t imagine I’m alone in these kinds of feelings. I think country music is a very intrinsic part of people’s lives, and that’s why people care about it so much.

And I think that’s why people get so upset about it. Not because country music is so bad right now (IT’S SO BAD RIGHT NOW), but because it’s being called country music when it’s obviously not. I think that’s the heart of the whole thing – the whole “DON’T CALL THAT SHIT COUNTRY MUSIC. I GREW UP LISTENING TO COUNTRY MUSIC AND THAT’S NOT COUNTRY MUSIC!” idea. And I think that’s a totally valid way to feel about it… Something that is a very real and intrinsic part of your life & who you are is now nearly unrecognizable to you? And it’s being touted as something it’s not? To the masses? Like I said, anger or frustration is a very valid feeling to that phenomenon (and YES, we can argue that that’s been the life of country music since its inception. But I’m not trying to conduct a fucking history lesson, and I don’t have the time to go over the entire ebb & flow of country music’s plight. I’m just trying to talk about right now).

Now, I’m sure some of you may be enraged that I’m saying country music is dead. Relax. That’s just the way I feel. I’m just one guy. I’m not the first person to feel that way, or to say it. At all. And I feel that way more & more as time goes on. And what I mean is this: Imagine if you took a poll across the United States that asked people to list country music artists… It would probably be populated with Luke Bryans & Jason Aldeans, Sam Hunts & The Band Perrys. And I believe that if 90% of the population thinks that Luke Bryan is country music, then Luke Bryan is country music. Thus, the thing we all used to know as country music no longer exists… Which effectively makes it dead.

Sure, there are artists like Sturgill or Stapleton that come along here & there and breathe life into things, but I don’t have any reason to think that their existence has any impact on what country music is or isn’t. Dearmore talks in his article about artists getting touted as “messiahs” of sorts – Sturgill, Isbell, Stapleton, respectively. How new successful artists keep getting all this attention as THE ARTIST that will be the one to turn the tides or right the country music ship. He also argues that none of this matters because we can go find good music that we like at the click of a computer key or mouse. And I think those two ideas are going to eat each other alive. I believe that we are in a time where NO ARTISTS are going to have very strong staying power. We’re in an age of everything, right now, all the time. Here is the life of popular artists right now:

  • Artist puts out great record
  • Everyone starts talking about it online
  • Artist becomes the artist that will correct an entire genre
  • Everyone gets bored
  • New artist comes along (Repeat process)

That’s some vicious cycle shit right there, y’all. And it’s never going to stop. Never. So how about we quit arguing about it, get off our fucking computers, & go to a show?

If you don’t want to do that, at least go listen to 680AM KKYX.

Chris King

Chris King is a songwriter currently residing in Austin, TX.

15 thoughts on “Country Music?

  • November 13, 2015 at 9:38 am

    I pretty much agree with everything said here. I think this states the problem perfectly… it’s just that there’s no real solution.

    It’s got to be really scary as an artist to be making music right now… and that’s why I think this is an important piece. It’s written by a musician that is trying to make it across not just all the noise here locally, but make it in an industry that has very gray genres lines. Not good for independents. And maybe that’s just what this needs to be.. more Independent Country. But I don’t see a CMA category for that any time soon.

    We have to champion the Stapleton’s and Sturgill’s… we have to support the smaller guys doing what the love. Eventually the tide will turn if enough of America is listening.

  • November 16, 2015 at 7:39 am

    This is nothing new. It happens to each genre. it happened to jazz in the pre-Count-Basie era, and then a second time during the height of rock. Miles Davis himself even said that jazz was dead. Country Music, and by extension Bluegrass and Western Swing, are going the way of jazz. It will be a genre that enjoys massive niche appeal but no longer enjoys mainstream attention. And on the Luke Bryan thing: if nine out of ten people think the ps2 is a better console than the Dreamcast they’re still wrong, the ps2 had poorer graphics and less capabilities. Same with Puke Bryan, Jason Al-d-wad and Sham Hunt. The masses are wrong, as evidenced by their willingness to believe in such farces and total abominations as Steve Jobs, Blackfish and the XBox One.

  • November 17, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Great article! Thank you for writing it.

  • November 17, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    This website has profoundly broadened my horizon towards viable, relatable, substantive music, articles and opinions.

    Thank you to all the people who’s efforts go into it (not sure if you hear that enough or possibly too much?)… but feel compelled to express it here.

  • December 23, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I agree completely. I just now stumbled across your article, but I think the argument is still valid 2 years later.

    The whole dynamic of country music and country radio has changed. We can call it “pop-country” all day long, and we’d be right; if you minus out the fake twang and “redneck” anthems, you have bad pop music. Now mixing pop and country aren’t exactly new. Follow me here; I promise that I am not defending this moronic mess on the radio.

    Jimmie Rodgers did a record with Louis Armstrong. While the Carters were keeping country backwoods and religious toned, Jimmie was taking country to town. The master himself, Hank Williams, Sr., had an influence of the blues in his music, and his songs crossed over into the pop market. Country and rock melded into rockabilly promoted by Jerry Lee, Johnny, Elvis, and Carl. Even Buck Owens and George Jones got in the rockabilly gig. The 60’s gave us countrypolitan/Nashville Sound; you really couldn’t tell a difference between Eddy Arnold and Dean Martin-they both had the luxurious feel to their music.

    The difference between now and then, though, is that other styles of music were allowed to flourish in the country genre. When Eddy was going uptown with orchestra and vocal chorus, Buck Owens was twanging it up with those guitars. George Jones was still putting out solid country music. Homer and Jethro were doing their comedy bit as was Don Bowman. Even Waylon Jennings had good stuff in that time period. Country radio was a hodge podge of various styles. You don’t have that now. It’s all about being hicks in the sticks, Daisy Duke shorts, tailgates, mix tapes, sticking a pink umbrella in somebody’s drink, etc. It’s like a frat party took over the genre we loved.

    Another problem I find is that there is absolutely no representation for the oldies or older artists. There was a time Hank Snow could have a hit on the charts 30-40 years after his career started. Roy Orbison could get airplay with “You Got It” in the 80’s even though his career had spanned the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. You could find Roy’s or Hank’s new hit alongside whatever the new artists were putting out. KTMO in Kennett, MO., now a haven for bro-country, mixed in oldies with the new stuff in the 80’s and up close to the 90’s. You might hear the latest from George Strait and then hear Johnny Horton or Burl Ives. They had a staggering music collection-one of the DJ’s told me they still had 78’s on hand, though they didn’t have the ability to play them.

    Something changed in the 90’s. Radio started to ignore the classic artists. Yeah, I like Garth and Shania, and they had some stuff that could be deemed traditional during that period. You had Hank, Jr., Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and others putting out new albums in the 90’s but not many stations touched their stuff. Even Neil Diamond put out a country album in the 90’s that got ignored.

    I guess I wouldn’t have such a problem with Aldean, Bryan, Hunt, etc. if they weren’t the only ballgame on the radio. If they would mix in new stuff by older artists (hey, Loretta has put a few albums this century!), some stuff by semi-traditional artists like Shooter Jennings and Hank III, and play more of Cody Jinks and the like, I could tolerate the few bad songs thrown in. Sadly all we have on “country” radio is a constant frat party with a bad twang.

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