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Jerry Jeff Didn’t Kill Anything

by: Cody Starr

A recent article posted by Fort Worth Weekly made me tilt my head a bit. I’m still up in the air as to whether or not this was written to be click bait (isn’t it all?) and I’m the fool that’s been suckered in by responding. Probably, but music is a talkin’ sport, that’s what we do around here, and I felt compelled to write.

Click the link if you haven’t read it or you can accept my summary at face value.

What Happened to Texas Music?

It goes like this… Willie, Waylon and the boys were doing just fine creating counterculture Outlaw Country in Texas during the early 70’s until some Yankee gypsy name Jerry Jeff Walker came here and started ruining it with his silly drinkin’, hell-raisin’, sing-a-long songs. People liked it and Robert Earl Keen piggybacked off the movement, perpetuating it into the 80’s before handing it off to a charismatic, yet parent funded kid from Tech name Pat Green in the 90’s. From there all the Pat Green copycats came out of the woodwork and now Texas Music, with the help of the “Neanderthal” Red Dirt movement, has devolved into nothing but a bunch of crappy, beer drinking party anthems. It all sucks and to prove it I’m going to interview some local Fort Worth musicians who are going to confirm that it’s all crap and what a farce of a business it is.

Honestly, I’m not angered by this article. It just overgeneralizes and discredits those artists in the scene that do write well and give a rip. Hyperbole is in these days and the article is full of old man syndrome; like that friend that constantly bitches about how Saturday Night Live has sucked since the Belushi days. Ok, I get it, and there is some truth in your frustration, but can we unpack this a bit?

The author, Jeff Prince, comes out of the gate throwing JJW under the bus, saying “A New York guy killed Texas Music”. While he acknowledges Walker wrote some “beautiful tearjerkers” apparently that’s negated because he also wrote, “Sangria Wine” and a few other carefree songs that people insist on hearing at his shows.

Reducing Jerry Jeff and his repertoire to a handful of beer drinking songs is selling him pretty damn short. Most of his songs came from personal experiences (e.g. Mr. Bojangles) and not a pre-bro country concoction to get people turnt and lots of spins on mainstream radio. The guy has always been an entertainer, storyteller, and songwriter that people can relate to and I don’t recall ever hearing him do bits to keep people engaged at shows. He didn’t burn guitars or have a drummer named Nippleus Erectus, it all came from the music and his interaction with the fans. People go to his show to relax, unwind and sing-a-long and I don’t understand how that makes him shallow. I saw ‘ole JJW at Billy Bob’s last month, he played the hits but ironically, not “Sangria Wine”.

Prince goes on to acknowledge Robert Earl Keen for improving the Texas beer anthem genre with better songwriting and Pat Green for his stage presence, personality and grassroots marketing genius. However, given the overall tone of the article, all his compliments come off as backhanded. The story continues that these guys, along with the “Neanderthal” Red Dirt music coming out of Oklahoma at that time, elevated the scene and inspired waves of imitators that watered down Texas Music to the drivel we have today.

He’s right for crediting JJW, REK, PG and Oklahoma acts like Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jason Boland for taking this thing stratospheric in the late 90’s. After all, that frenzy of acts coupled with the Ingrams, Morrows, and Fowlers of the world birthed a rabid fanbase that created this website. What I don’t understand is why he blames these guys for all the poor writing, cheesy performing, overly social media hyped acts they inspired. Ten years from now are we going to blame Sturgill and Isbell for the flood of wannabes who do a crappy job of trying to replicate them?

The 90’s were my college years and looking back I’ll admit a lot of it was shallow and fun. Even then we knew Pat Green was Texas frat boy country, but we didn’t care. We belted Creager’s “The Everclear Song” and CCR’s “Carney Man” fully knowing those weren’t the pinnacle of songwriting. But when you’re young, good music takes the party from a 6 to an 11. That’s the way it’s always been, it will continue to be that way and it’s not unique to Texas Music. But let’s be clear, it wasn’t all mindless beer slinging. Walt Wilkins and others were funneling substance into the scene. As far as Red Dirt is concerned, I don’t think Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, and Jimmy LaFave took a “Neanderthal approach” to songwriting. I’m not even sure what that means, but for safety, I wouldn’t utter that within earshot of The Damn Quail’s Bryon White. I’m sure Bryon’s neanderthal approach involves disembowelment of folks who insult his idols.

The article wraps with Mr. Prince doing a Q & A with three Fort Worth musicians, each giving their impressions on the state of Texas Music. Their responses didn’t direct ire towards any of the aforementioned artists but rather the business side of music. The pay for radio play, people trying to get into pockets, the farce of Texas Music charts, you know, all of that Bad Truth fodder and again, not unique to Texas Music.

The biggest nugget of truth in this strange article centers around the watering down of Texas Music. Yes, there are a ton of acts and mediocrity is abound. But it’s not the fault of Jerry Jeff Walker or any of this scene’s forefathers. In the write-up, Earl Musick states you no longer need a studio to put out a record. He’s right. Accessibility to inexpensive, yet capable recording technology has put record making within reach of anybody who has a computer and a few hundred bucks worth of software and equipment. Couple that with social media for free self-promotion and distribution via Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, and it’s much easier to get up and going as an artist compared to ten years ago. It’s a great thing actually. Inevitably, with those doors available you’re going to get some cheap tricks, people that aren’t that talented, can’t write or know how to assemble a good record. We are flooded with people trying to be the next big thing. But flip that coin and you’ll get a Jason Eady, John Baumann, Jamie Lin Wilson, Dalton Domino, Shinyribs and a host of others who’ve figured out how to make this work and put some good art out there. Are they filthy rich? No, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

Jerry Jeff didn’t invent the internet, REK didn’t write the book on using Twitter, and Pat wasn’t the first to stream his music for little to no money. They aren’t to blame. What happened to Texas Music? It’s grinding away as always. As fans there are ample good fruits; but, you’ve got to sift your way through it all and ignore the rotten stuff.

2 Responses to “Jerry Jeff Didn’t Kill Anything”

  1. Totally left Bingham out of the writers list. Huge mistake. He is writing some of the most introspective stuff since Merle, Tom T Hall and George JONES.

    IMO the contrast the article tried, and failed, to make is more toward the uprising of the Willie Waylon mood vs Disco. TX music filled that gap for tons of people when rock music went on hiatus for Donna Summer and the BeeGees 15min of fame. Regardless of where a writer, or performer comes from TX music is a vibe, mood, feel, texture, that comes from like minded people. Yes, some of us are fortunate enough to be born here. But, saying that JJW killed TX Music because he did stuff like Sangria and is from NY is right up there in the dumbass stratosphere with saying SRV killed the blues because he is white and covered Texas Flood.

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    • Cody Star June 26, 2017

      Thanks for the comment Jason. If you are referring to me leaving Bingham off the Jason Eady, John Baumann, etc. songwriters’ list – that list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, hence the “and a host of others” tacked onto the end to cover. Those names were the first to come to mind, mostly because almost all of them have put out records this year and were fresh in the brain. Bingham’s there.

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