Texas Independence Day is celebrated each March 2nd. It marks the date upon which Texas settlers signed a Declaration of Independence from Mexico in 1836. The independent streak created all those years ago by the brave folks who decided to challenge the empirically powerful Santa Anna-led Mexican government can still be found in the manner this scene goes about making music.
Scores of artists from Texas, have for years, been declaring independence from the music biz machinery and doing things their own way with a great deal of success. There are times however, that these artists decide joining the Union would be the best thing for their careers; and you always have those who stubbornly hold on to their art with the same vitriolic passion found in those early Texan settlers. Who is right and who is wrong? The answer is there are no winners and losers. As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat (PETA,unwad your panties…it’s just a figure of speech). Each artist has to decide what is best for themselves, their family, their organization, and their art.
This notion is, of course, most famously echoed in the manner Willie and Waylon went about their business in the 70’s. Bucking the trends, forging their own paths on a go for broke ethos that had them proclaiming the only way they were going to make music was on their own terms. Those terms may have been heavily influenced by copious amounts of coke and pot…but they were their terms nonetheless. I like to think that they, like we as fans have for over a decade now…even though they knew it was a gamble, believed that if the masses just heard the music they were creating it’d be a hit. Luckily, they were right. The movement they started all those years ago has reverberated for decades bringing us all manner of artists and variations of the Outlaw scene. Which brings us to the currently much-maligned and watered down Texas/Red Dirt market where independence still reigns even for those folks on the major labels out of Nashville.
Just because there are more zeroes at the ends of the checks and they are riding in a bus doesn’t make guys like Randy Rogers or Jack Ingram any less relevant, savvy, and aware of their roots than they ever were. In fact, they are most likely more heavily steeped in their Texan roots. I point to two examples with those two guys that I’ve witnessed over the last year. First, I saw Randy perform with Wade Bowen in Nashville last June. During that show and in front of a roomful of heavy hitting Music Row executives who came out to, as I overheard one of them say at the bar, “see what all this underground fuss from Texas was about”, Randy delivered blistering between song banter related to the mockery that most modern country music has become. He was making fun of many of the artists who make these bigwigs mortgage payments. He essentially walked into the lion’s den and poked him with a stick. Most major label artists wouldn ‘t have the balls to do something like that. Many pay lip service to an Outlaw attitude and name-check Waylon in interviews and songs…but it’s all a publicity campaign. Recently, Jack Ingram played a frat party down on 6th Street at a place no bigger than the famous dive he got his start at, Adair’s. He tweeted that it reminded him of old times and was really fun. Most artists with chart hits and ACM Awards don’t play gigs like that anymore. Jack did. By doing things like this, these artists and others like them are able to grasp for the golden ring while remaining grounded in their Texas roots. This allows them to make new fans and retain old ones…all while cranking out good, relevant music.
The flip side of the major label artist is the true independent artist. The guy who pays the bills by gigging and converting one fan at a time in one-night stands across the region and beyond. One of the most successful guys I know doing it this way is Drew Kennedy. He has built a worldwide network of underground fans that enable him to make a comfortable living as a traveling songwriter even though his gigs may never pack out places like Midnight Rodeo. He has the respect of the Americana and songwriter scenes…all while basing himself out of Texas. He’s never played the game…has no aspirations to be on a major label. He lives for the art of the song and connecting with fans one night at a time. There are even those guys that start out in this way and end up winning Golden Globes. Of course, I’m referring to Michael Jackson winning for “Ben” back in 1972. The streets of 1960’s Gary, Indiana were rough!
In all seriousness, both groups of artists have pros and cons. And, both maintain the independent streak that this great state was founded on 174 years ago. It’s okay to like both types of artists. You don’t have to hate on something because it is popular. And you don’t have to ignore something just because it doesn’t pack out your local corporate MidnightWestCrazyRodeoHorse dancehall. Appreciate everything for what it is…and try not to hate on it. Unless it’s Taylor Swift singing live. Wink
What makes that appreciation tougher to come by sometimes is the fact that we as fans have opinions and passion that is as equally independent and stubborn as the artists we adore. Upon indoctrination to this great music scene, new listeners usually find themselves swimming up and down the food chain of success looking for the next thing to grab their attention. Much like the palette of food craved by your diet, some folks begin to appreciate the finer things in life…say wine and fine Italian food. Whereas, some folks are happy with macaroni and cheese. Yet, others crave both and are equally happy driving through for a dollar menu treat or sitting down to a five course meal at a fine steakhouse. The trick is being independent enough in your thinking to figure out what makes your soul groove. You can listen to musical snob blowhards like me for guidance or chase it on your own…but the point is…in the end, what you like is what YOU like. Independent of everyone else. Which is something that this scene, even with all of it’s mini-Nashville politically charged atmospheres still maintains. Tour bus, van or a beat up Ford…everybody’s marching to the beat of their own drummer and making their own stands.
-Rita Ballou. Where to start? Well, first off I AM NOT her; nor do I have anything to do with it or know who she is for sure. I’ve been asked numerous times and I just don’t know. I have my suspicions, but I think it’s more fun to actually not know. The fact that somebody got pissed off enough to start a Perez Hilton gossip blog about this scene cracks me up in of itself. Secondly, I think it’s harmless fun. It cracks me up on the daily. Third, we needed someone to remind us not to take this music so serious all the time. As I’ve ranted about before, this scene has grown to such a large level that it’s become really politicized and corrupt. Glad someone else out there notices. Next, I think Rita should do a podcast with Shannon Canada…it would be hilarious. Lastly, that darn independent streak strikes again…just in a new way.
-Sad I missed Scott Matthew’s ship off shindig this past weekend. Proud of him.
-Anyone else think of Rusty Wier throughout much of your Crazy Heart viewing?
-Like funky soul music from Austin? Check out Da He Be Ge Bees. Hadn’t seen them in too long. I’m so often immersed in this style of music that I continually find myself searching for live music outlets that provide something different.
-Is it football season yet?
-The Olympics made me care about hockey for about 17 minutes.
-Did someone put acid in my takeout Sunday or did I really see William Shatner reading poetry in front of giant, inflatable beavers?
-Michelle Beadle is a goddess.
-Congrats to the RRB on the ACM nomination. Enjoy the free bar and come back with some good stories.
-It is festival season. And an even numbered year. That means rain at all events. Get your rain boots now. Bands should sell these at the merch stand at outdoor events. Chicks would buy them and pair them with a skirt and white tank-top. I’ve seen it. Make some money guys!
-This month’s recommended film: Shutter Island. Even though it was a little uneven in spots and I’m really kind of bored with Leo pairing with Scorcese…it’s still Scorcese.
-This month’s recommended album: Mumford and Sons-Sigh No More. An English folk rock band in the vein of Drive By Truckers or Lucero that the aforementioned Mr. Kennedy turned me onto after a recent gig. Folksy, emotional and straightforward musically. Passionate, romantic yet direct lyrically. This band and debut album are both winners.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain