Hooray for the Dixie Chicks. Or as I affectionately call them, the Chixie Dicks. Five for five in this year’s Grammys, capping a mighty three-year comeback since being banished by country radio for The Comment.
During a 2003 concert in London, singer Natalie Maines told the audience that the Chicks were “ashamed that the President (of the U.S.) is from Texas.” Confused Londoners, who had assumed that everyone from Texas was a dickweed, applauded. Here was a girl from the Lone Start state, who did not exhibit the blind loyalty expected by the arrogant knucklehead frat boy who was now the leader of the free world.[At the time, President Bush was ramping up his pet science project, the invasion of Iraq. Even then, millions of Americans were scratching their heads at this plan. Iraq? But, weren’t all the 9-11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia? The same Saudi Arabia to which we owe a big chunk of our national debt? The same Saudi Arabia which has purchased the fealty of the entire Bush family? Oh…]
Upon returning to the U.S. to face a furor among mouth-breathing NASCAR addicts, Maines attempted to clarify her statement: “I feel the President is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world.” Damn. If only she hadn’t used a five-syllable word.
Fans of “country” radio (not to be confused with country music fans) put down their pork rinds long enough to phone the radio stations to express their rage that anyone could disagree with Pre’d’nt Bush. Country radio responded by refusing to play any more Dixie Chicks music, which was a crushing blow to the girls’ financial status. Instead of becoming kajillionaires, they remained mere zillionaires.
Toby Keith, Ford truck shill and opportunistic writer of jingoistic fist-shaking anthems, booked himself on all the talk shows so he could spew his neocon vitriol, saying the Chicks should just “shut up and sing.” His own approach to world politics and diplomacy was to “stick a boot up their ass.” Rednecks and white trash trailerbillies rejoiced. A successor to Hank Jr. had been coronated.
So the Chicks said to Country radio, you can kiss our shapely zillionaire asses, y’all. Go enjoy your Cheez-Whiz casserole while NOT playing our smart, catchy, Grammy-winning music. We’ll just take a left turn here to Adult Contemporary Radio, where people can spell NPR without having to be spotted the NP.
Their first non-country album, “Taking the Long Way,” is an accomplished, confident work that the Chicks labored over for two years. It shows. Rick Rubin’s production allows the Chicks to bring their talent and attitude front and center, proving that the bloated ass of Nashvegas need not be kissed in order to put out a successful bunch of great, rootsy songs. And by god, they write most of their own stuff and they all play instruments.
The irony, to me, is that most people who listen to modern country radio don’t realize they’re hearing a bunch of recycled Firefall and Quarterflash soft rock crap from the late ‘70’s. Occasionally, while driving aimlessly around Missoula in my SUV, wondering how to solve the energy crisis, I dial in one of the two identical country stations to stay abreast of what’s coming out of Nashville (I think it was Daniel Simpson Day who said keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer). Usually I can go nearly three or four songs before I slam my fist through the radio, and begin frantically searching for a pawn shop so I can buy a pistol and blow my brains out.
This is country music? Really. What country? The Republic of Treacle?
A couple of years ago I approached some yutz who was manning the controls at a remote broadcast for one of these stations. I asked him if he could play some Wayne Hancock.
“Who?” said the kid, pulling of his headphones.
Never heard of Wayne the Train. Okay, surely you have some Dale Watson in there. Truckers’ favorite.
No Dale Watson. How about BR549?
He brightened. “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of those guys. They’re pretty good. Can’t play ‘em, though. Too country.”
Too country for country radio. I imagined calling up a jazz station in Chicago and requesting Miles Davis’ “Will O’ The Wisp” from “Sketches of Spain.”
“Mmm. Miles. Love to, cat, but it’s just too jazzy. Be cool.”
Anyone who knows my music knows I’m a fan of real country music. Buck. Merle. Patsy. Loretta. Hank Sr. Johnny. But how do you explain to someone the difference between true country music, and the cardboard crap being shoveled on the public at Wal-Marts from coast to coast?
One clue is timelessness. WD-40, the hottest alt-country band in Denver, is covering “White Lightning,” as are thousands of bands across the land, and crowds are loving it. The great George Jones song, almost 50 years old, is still hilarious, catchy, wild and fun.
Ten years from now, will anyone be covering “Ladies Love Country Boys” by Trace Adkins? Not bloody likely. It’s just the latest version of “I’m SO Country,” the generic theme song of self-regard recorded by every flash-in-the-pan that’s populated the Country Top 40 for the last 15 years.
No, for Real Country Music, you have to look at Yep Roc Records. Bloodshot Records. Mammoth. Sugar Hill. Watermelon. Rounder. E-Squared. Zoo-Praxis. East/West. Hightone. Lost Highway. And hundreds more independent labels.
“Real music is out there, and real people are playin’ it,” is one of my all-time favorite quotes from Webb Wilder. Webb’s music is a shotgun wedding between guitar-heavy rockabilly, surf music, and straight country-rock. Powerful stuff. Frequently hilarious.
One look at my CD collection is a testament to all the great music out there that you won’t hear on any modern country station. Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, Wayne Hancock, Hadacol, the Domino Kings, High Noon, the Derailers and BR549 bring the traditional honky-tonk as if they’d all escaped from Bakersfield, circa 1966.
For those seeking more rock with their twang, there’s Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs, Chris Gaffney and the Cold Hard Facts, Mike Henderson and the Dead Reckenors (Rock and Roll Rule #4: you must have an awesome name for your backing band), Jason & the Scorchers (now defunct), the Bottle Rockets, the Backsliders, the Tail Gators, the Carpetbaggers, the Jayhawks, Son Volt, the Yayhoos and the Old 97’s, to name just a few bands.
The list of singer/songwriters operating outside the Bible Beltway is a long one, as it’s rare for one of these Revlon girls/underwear models populating the country charts to write any of their own material. Most don’t even play a goddamn instrument. Nothing against the singers, but when someone like Faith Hill receives all the accolades for warbling vanilla soft-rock valentines while Kelly Hogan and Neko Case struggle for recognition, I know that global warming has begun to affect more than the polar ice caps.
Alejandro Escovedo (who used to be in Rank & File, who basically invented cowpunk) is one of the most literate, satisfying songwriters working today, but you’ll never hear him on country radio, because sometimes he uses big words and sings about complex stuff. None of this “remember when we were kids / tell me about the good old days” bullshit. If there’s anything worse than nostalgia, it’s phony, calculated nostalgia.
Some other greats to listen to are Joe Ely, Billie Joe Shaver, Jack Ingram, Radney Foster, Robbie Fulks, Hank III, Todd Snider, Steve Earle, Dan Baird, Robert Earl Keen, Fred Eaglesmith, Bruce Robison, and his brother Charlie Robison. Bruce, a Texan, happens to be married to the greatest country singer of her generation, Kelly Willis.
And his brother Charlie? Why, he was in the audience at the Grammys, cheering on his wife Emily, banjo player and singer for the Dixie Chicks.
Love him or loath him, Bob Wire’s always got something on his mind. Check back at www.newwest.net/bobwire every day. Now git!