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Is It Country, Or Ain't It? A War That Never Ends

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 06:00 AM Written by 

I said in my blog entry yesterday Blake Shelton's colorful and controversial comments about today's country versus those in Nashville and elsewhere who complain that the new material "ain't country" that this has been an on going battle since the 1930's.  It has.  Let me count the ways.  Or better yet, let's stick with two examples of it.  One recent, one from 32 years ago.

I could start the history lesson in the 1930s, when drums, horns and electric guitars were barred from the Grand Ole Opry stage by the show's creator George D. Hay.  But let's just consider today and 32 years ago.

This is "Old Fart (A Song For Blake)," a new song recently recorded by Texas neotraditionalist Dale Watson, whose music explodes with the raw twang of say, the middle 1960's. Watson who does it extraordinarily well, capturing the feel and style of the classic Johnny Paycheck records of that era with overtones of the classic twang of Bakersfielders Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. 

Do I think it's a good song?  Not really. Much as I like Watson, I find this more juvenile than Shelton's comments, criticized for their tone, even by those who agreed with him.  Watson's track record proves he's capable of more than childish name-calling that doesn't really addres Shelton's point. 

Let's travel back 32 years for this ballad, written and sung by the late singer-songwriter Justin Tubb, son of Texas legend and Grand Ole Opry great Ernest Tubb. Like his daddy, Justin was a hardcore traditionalist. Born the same year as Elvis, he scorned early rock music and had a brief bit of contry success in the 50's.

In 1981, the Urban Cowboy sound, ultra slick, overproduced country personified by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton in her "9 to 5" phase, was stirring controversy. Nashville producers made an increasing number of records with strings, some well-done, many little more than bad elevator music.  This was Justin's eloquent but simplistic response: the original ballad "What's Wrong With The Way That We're Doin' It Now?" 

And the beat-downs go on...


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