Have you ever fibbed about how much you like country music? Have you ever placed a country CD on the bottom of a stack so as not to be readily noticed? Or, have you ever browsed the infinitely cooler pop/rock section aimlessly, waiting for your moment to break off and sneak unnoticed into the country bins? Have you found yourself fumbling around saying things like “well, ya know, not all country, I mean not like the commercial stuff?” It happens all the time, I get calls while on the air and it sometimes feels like true confessions. I absolve all who call, too. My goal is to send the lost back out into the world with heads held high. Don’t turn down that steel guitar at traffic lights, I admonish. Don’t roll up those windows when another car drifts up beside you. Start where you’re comfortable, I tell them. If Hank Williams is blasting from your speakers they may look at you a little funny, hell, I might too, but no one will say anything. It’s Hank Williams after all, he gets a pass. But what else? Bluegrass will always get a raised eyebrow, but like it’s urban cousin Jazz, the listeners are largely left alone as oddball loners, not to be disturbed from their habitat. Mainstream country though is open season though, so build up that backbone and choose wisely.
Often times, I tell people to start with 1970s Waylon. You’re hard pressed to find a cooler archetype of American machismo than Waylon Jennings circa 1973. While the rockers were wearing their bell bottoms and singing power ballads about middle earth, space, and arcade games, Waylon looked salty in jeans, cuffed sleeve button downs, leather vests and unkempt hair under a cowboy hat. He sang about women. About loving them and leaving them. He sang about booze and the troubles it caused. He sang about open stretches of highway and about a vanishing culture – the remnants of the old west and the mythical freedoms we’ve imposed on it. He questioned where we’re headed and how we’re getting there. He did all of this with a pure country voice and a hard country sound. He forever gave us the road map on how to play hard and kick it up without being rock or even country-rock. He could have been any of those things, too. He had the Buddy Holly cred. He was the right age to have done it early, if not first. He was handsome. Still though, I can’t picture the man in bell bottoms or sandals. Partly, it was marketing. He was this thing, not that thing. But, maybe take out that dirty word and substitute pride instead. Why couldn’t a west Texas boy do it the way he wanted to? Hell, I guess he could.
It’s ten years to the day that we lost him and every time I find myself needing a good ass kicking, and that’s more often than you might think, I miss him.
On this Valentine’s Eve I’m feeling nothing but love:
Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love), Waylon Jennings