Perspective. It’s what just about everything is based on in this life. What’s new. What’s good. What’s old. What’s bad. It’s all a matter of opinion…and perspective. Sometimes things can shade our perspective and we can be tricked. In Sociology, they talk about the different selves that human beings showcase depending on the circumstances surrounding them at that time. This is especially true in the music business where it has not been uncommon over the years for people to do whatever it took to become famous, disregarding their more pure artistic desires. There’s a trade off that only the person in the middle of it can judge the worth of. Is making it worth throwing out your personal creed. Within this concession, there is also a spectrum to acknowledge.
Milli Vanilli being one end, Midland in the middle and Kevin Fowler on the other side. For you kids out there, Milli Vanilli was a group that shot to fame in the late 80’s on the strength of some R&B jams. Turns out the guys in the videos and making the radio appearances were essentially actors playing a Monkees type role where they weren’t actually the ones singing. They got caught when they were playing a gig and their backing track started skipping. They were complete frauds musically, but innocent in that they’d just signed on play a part. They’re real, but the music isn’t. Midland is a collection of actors with a phony backstory about slaving away in the Texas honkytonks for years before making it who just happen to put on a damn fine live show and are recording some of the finest country music around. Their music is real, they aren’t. Then you have the gregarious lad Rita Ballou once proclaimed the Redneck Messiah, Kevin Fowler. A former heavy metal guitar slinger who realized he was sitting on a goldmine when he became the musical equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy. The rednecker the better. There are traces of the real Amarillo-born Fowler within “Kevin Fowler”, but it’s an act to be certain. And a peerless one at that. A captivating entertainer who has probably made more money than anyone in the Texas scene. A smart redneck indeed, his latest Dos Borrachos experiment possibly excluded.
Every musician and artist puts on an air or costume to a degree. Our scene definitely tends to, for the most part, enjoy those artists we feel are most authentic and true to themselves. We don’t want a faux experience, we want the real thing. Aaron Watson really is that nice. The Randy Rogers Band guys really do like each other that much. Wade Bowen really does care that much. Josh Abbott truly is that passionate. Drew Kennedy is that smart. Cody Johnson really rodeo’d. Koe Wetzel does party that hard. Jamie Lin Wilson really does outwork everyone. Courtney Patton is sincerely that funny. And so on.
Everyone, including you, wears a costume, it just depends on the degree of layering. You may give zero effs most 97% of the time, but you do give them around your mama. You may hate your job, but you keep showing up. The examples are endless. Which brings us to the point of all this costumed October talk. Two acts recently hit the top of the charts after years of grinding away in Texas, Whiskey Myers and Cody Jinks. What do these two acts have in common aside from rabid fanbases and appealing songwriting? They figured out what made them tick artisitcally and pursued it and refined it relentless through nonstop touring and woodshedding. The first time I heard Whiskey Myers, I knew they had something but I and many others heard a young band coloring within the blueprints of Lynyrd Skynyrd. They were wearing a southern rock costume. Now, all these years later, they own that sucker. They’ve made it their own. And people all the way from Tyler and Stephanie out in Longview all the way to Mick and Keith from the UK have taken notice. Same thing with Jinks. I first met Jinks when he would serve me Lone Stars and Jaeger Bombs at the White Elephant. We shot the breeze a few times and had some metal talk. He was always very raw, but knew where he wanted to take it. He wanted to take that heavy metal aesthetic and apply it to Texas songwriting. He figured it out about 5 years ago and hasn’t looked back. By being true to himself, he found an audience that hasn’t stopped growing.
The same can be said for the guys on the larger scene that are dominating at the moment. Isbell, Childers, Sturgill. Isbell’s sober, clear eyed slant on life has allowed him to discren and describe a songwriting canon that nobody can match over the past 6 years. He writes from experience and he writes from the heart. He swore off that stuff and every line in every song has hit harder ever since. Childers writes about things he’s lived and seen in Kentucky and doesn’t stray far from it. He’s speaking his truth and turning more unique phrases than any writer in quite some time. All while never changing who he is. Sturgill is the wild card. Some get him, some don’t. I recently compared him to Lou Reed and Tom Waits. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s what makes him tick. He’s got a lot going on in that brain of his and pretty much does whatever the damn hell he wants at the moment. He’s not going to be beloved by everyone as he continues his journey, but we all know what he’s doing is his truth. He’s not beholden to anyone’s ideas except his own muse.
Putting on a costume to market your music is fine. It’s happened for 150 years and it will happen as long as it is a medium. But time and again, the artists that have longevity, coupled with critical acclaim and loyal fanbases are the one’s that do it their own way. It was true when Willie did it 50 years ago, and it’s truer now. Maybe moreso now due to the crowded, plastic, electric, fast way of life now. What you decide to dress up in or believe is up to you. Choose wisely.
-Heading back to Floore’s for the first time in a minute this weekend to see the big RRB/Rodney Crowell show. It’s sure to be a barn burner as it were.
-Super stoked about Mile 0, it’s almost time. So glad to have the Topo Chico Cowboys in tow this year.
-Preliminary plans are in motion for Galleywinter River Jam 2020!
-Being a Cowboys fan remains a bigger rollercoaster than the RRB record.
-Koe haning out with DDP at the Cowboys game. Let’s get Koe a run-in at a Raw or Smackdown taping.
-I’m a Rangers fan through and through….but (gritting teeth) congrats to the ‘Stros.
-It’s almost time to start rounding up our year end favorites. It’s been a great year for new music.
How about Parker McCollum getting namedropped in Lefsetz a while back? That’s huge, 2020 is going to be huge for PM. He may blow past that Whiskey/Jinks/CoJo level and go straight to the top of all of it.
-Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Todd Fritsch? That dude was on the crest of that dancehall traditional country sound that CoJo, Ward, King have surged with.
–This month’s recommended album: Kelsey Waldon -White Nose/White Lines. At a time when women are breaking through in ways and numbers we have rarely seen. Waldon is from the same fertile Applachian grounds as Childers and Sturgill and puts her own unique phrasing and spin to good use. This is a deeply personal piece of art with hooks and lyrics that make you press the back button to hear them again even before the songs is over.
–”Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain